P25Life Reads: Give and Take – A Revolutionary View of Success

Hello everyone and happy belated Thanksgiving!  In the spirit of the giving season, I’d liked to share a review about a book that revolutionized my personal beliefs about giving and success.  The book is called Give and Take – A Revolutionary View of Success and was written by Adam Grant, a top-rated professor at the Wharton Business School.

The premise of the book is that people fall into three categories of reciprocity:

  • Givers - people who give more favors that they receive

  • Matchers - people who give as many favors as they receive

  • Takers - people who receive more favors than give

In studies across multiple fields (medicine, sales, entertainment, etc.), who do you think were the most successful?  How about the least successful?

If you guessed the givers for both, you’d be correct.  Givers are over-represented in both the top AND bottom performers.

So why does this make sense?  Frankly, as a self-proclaimed matcher, I was shocked - I had guessed the matchers were the most successful.  However, the book’s explanation makes sense.  Successful givers in the workplace earn the support and trust of the people they help along the way. Their reputation often inspires others who want to support them in return.  The least successful givers “over give,” meaning they have not learned to set boundaries so that they put the agenda of others completely above their own. 

Takers can be successful too but in a way that is individual and often short-lived.  The book shares anecdotes of infamous takers including the architect Frank Lloyd, and researcher Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine.  Today, these men are remembered for their work at the height of their careers.  However, as they took credit for the work of their colleagues, they later found themselves with less opportunities and shunned by many in their community when their previous interns and colleagues had become more established in their own careers.  In the long-term, a taker’s reputation can get the way of future success.  After all, can you think of someone who you felt cheated you in the past?  How much did you want to help them back? As the world mostly consists of matchers, they naturally want to see the givers succeed and the takers fail – aligning their actions as such.

For me, the book has challenged the way I view the road to success.  Personally, the word “giver” had conjured images of charities and volunteering, but also images of selfless martyrs who end up as doormat in a world where “every man is for himself.”  To be honest, I attribute these associations to my experiences of being ranked against my peers for a majority of my life in school and at work.  However, this book reframes this thinking in numerous examples.  In taking a short-term view of our actions towards our goals, we may not recognize the long-term consequences.

So what implications does this have for Twenty-Somethings in their careers?  Perhaps shifting your reciprocity style could be key in your success.  Perhaps you already have some giver values, but life experiences have taught you that you need to compete and guard yourself from others. Running people over in order to accomplish our goals may be a beneficial in the short-run but can destroy valuable relationships in the long run.  In the networks and relationships we build in our careers, perhaps the focus could be how much we can give to others rather than how much we can get.  Just like companies and products we love, in our careers, we each also have a reputation that can speak louder on our behalf.  Giving more regardless of whether or not we know it will come back to us turns people into raving fans who support and advocate for us.  Also just a note – be wary about “faking it” too.  Eventually, I believe that reputation will catch up to you as well – where people will begin to question the motive behind your actions and requests.

It’s food for thought. How do you normally respond when someone asks you for help?  Do you consider how they can pay you back first before agreeing to help or do you help without any expectation?   The next time the opportunity arises to give, take, or match another person, take a second to consider the long-term implications the decision may have to your relationships or reputation.

When it comes to long-term success, giving turns others into loyal fans who advocate on your behalf.  Your reputation as determined by your relationships is a key factor in success.

By the way, if you’re curious on how you show up, there is a quick assessment you can do on Adam Grant’s website.  Now: a quick caveat with assessments.  If you’re like me, you love them – they give you a nice simple model to help validate and explain aspects of your personality.  However, it’s important to realize that these provide only a snapshot of information.  The coach in me is inclined to tell you that from here you can make some choices to shift your behaviors and beliefs if you find it beneficial ;).

Now it’s your turn – how would do you relate to the categories of givers, matchers, and takers?  What triggers each style for you?  How would increasing giving be beneficial?  Are there any situations in which it would be beneficial to you to change or shift your style?

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions!  Let’s keep the discussion going below!