Summer Reading List: Give and Take (A Revolutionary Approach to Success)

Katie SlaterIt’s still summer, at least here in San Francisco! For the final installment in our summer reading list, guest poster Katie Slater of Career Infusion Coaching returns to review Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, by Adam Grant.

I just started it, but I can confirm it’s fantastic. Take it away, Katie!

I’ve been proselytizing about Give and Take, by Wharton professor and researcher Adam Grant, since I started reading it two weeks ago. He has been featured prominently of late in the New York Times — once in a profile in the Magazine, and just the other week in an op-ed he wrote about how women may cause men to be more giving.

What’s the Book About?

Grant’s premise is that not only are the giving types in our society not suckers, they actually come out ahead in the end based on his research.

He breaks us humans down into 3 types — givers, takers, and matchers, and explains the behaviors and interactions between each group. (His other name for matchers is those who engage in quid pro quo — a description lawyers can immediately grasp!)

While he notes that giving has gone out of fashion in many corporate and other group contexts, Grant explains what can be extremely successful about giving in a career/work context.

Some Key Items

I found many things fascinating about the book, but I’ll pick out three key areas:

#1. Connections & Networking

Adam Grant has found that givers and takers have the biggest networks.

All that giving creates connections, not surprisingly, and all that taking means that a taker has to keep making new connections to replace the bridges burnt. He discovered that matchers have the smallest networks, as they only connect if someone else is willing to go the same distance as they are in a short time frame.

I found this to be such great evidence as to having a “what’s in it for me” way of approaching networking and connecting is actually against your long-term self-interest!

#2. Givers (and others) in Negotiations

Given my focus on negotiation, I was really excited to see that Professor Grant addressed this from the different behaviors.

Women can have a tougher time negotiating for themselves because they feel like asking is a taking behavior.

He noted that givers do “better” in negotiations around personal value (for example, asking for raises or promotions) if they referred to others that would also be helped or rewarded.

While I know it can be an effective technique short-term, I find this to be troubling advice for women.

I worry that it will result in women feeling that they can only ask on behalf of other people — and not for what they have worked hard for and deserve — and he doesn’t address the gender issue specifically or falling into this trap.

However, I think his point that givers can mentally think about the others that can benefit from the ask (for instance, great to have the extra cash for your family) serves as a useful spine-stiffener for those givers to ask!

Professor Grant later redeems himself in my eyes by noting that givers, given that they often have empathy as a core skill, can put themselves in their counterparties’ shoes and find bigger-pie solutions to conflicts that takers may just see as win/lose and matchers may see as lose a bit equally.

Overall, his book contains a helpful conversation about interaction styles and negotiation results (and refers to the bible for women and negotiating: Ask for It).

3. Avoiding Burnout (& Takers!)

Grant acknowledges that despite the benefits of giving, many givers can face burn-out and reduced motivation to give.

His solution of giving even more by volunteering did cause my eyebrows to raise, but he backs it up by noting that it has got to be with causes you believe in.  

His point is that as long as you are being renewed by the giving, it will not be draining and will encourage you to keep giving in all areas.

He does, however, note that the research shows a peak maximization of giving via volunteering — apparently it’s about 100 hours a year, which he breaks down to 2 hours a week.

He also suggests that givers avoid burn-out and getting used by takers by keeping an eye on their own self-interest. Keeping your own goals in mind will help guard against getting taken. Grant calls this behavior “other-ish”. This is not to be confused with expecting something in return from helping someone else — that would be matching, or quid pro quo, behavior.

He also suggests as part of the giving package that you have a person you are helping pay it forward and make sure they give, as well, using as examples the engineering entrepreneurial group called 106 Miles and a consultant requiring those she mentors to mentor others.


I could go on and on about all of the ideas Grant has stuffed in the book, but the last idea I will note and that I found incredibly intriguing is that giving can create what Grant calls a ripple effect that encourages greater collaboration.

This effect appears to be able to transform the norm from one of taking or matching to giving, if there is a critical mass of people willing to seek real help, be vulnerable, and help others.

There is so much possibility inherent in this that it makes me want to give a copy of this book to everyone I meet.

The bottom line? It’s pretty terrific that research by a Wharton professor validates the notion that helping others can make you successful.

— – —
Thanks, Katie! I can’t wait to finish the book.

You can always connect with Katie at Career Infusion Coaching, or on Twitter at @CareerInfusion.

Read On:

Check out the other posts Katie has written for The Girl’s Guide to Law School:

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  1. […] Fortunately, I’d been thinking a lot about why people find networking such a difficult concept and frankly face it with a lot of dread. I’d also just read a terrific book that, while on its face doesn’t appear to address the issue, explains a lot about connecting effectively: Give and Take, by Wharton professor Adam Grant. (I wrote a book review on it for one of my favorite sites, The Girls Guide to Law School – check out the review here.) […]

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