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Give and Take summary: How generosity impacts your success in the workplace by Adam Grant

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What Is the Book About?

Organizational psychologists like Adam Grant expertly dissect workplace dynamics, revealing secrets to success and behavioral patterns for getting the most out of your employees, coworkers, and everyday tasks.

In his 2013 book, Give and Take: Why helping others drives our success, Grant explores how we interact with one another and how these behavioral patterns influence our outcomes. He compiles extensive research and exhilarating real-world accounts that are meant to inspire a paradigm shift in the way we behave in our professional lives.

About the Author 

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, where he has been the top-rated professor for seven straight years. He is an expert in how we can find motivation and meaning, and lead more generous and creative lives.

He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of four books that have sold over 2 million copies and been translated into 35 languages: Give and TakeOriginalsOption B, and Power Moves.

His books have been recognized as among the year’s best by Amazon, the Financial TimesHarvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal and been praised by J.J. Abrams, Richard Branson, Bill and Melinda Gates, Malcolm Gladwell, and Malala Yousafzai.

Adam’s TED talks have been viewed more than 20 million times. He hosts the chart-topping TED podcast WorkLife. His speaking and consulting clients include Google, the NBA, Bridgewater, and the Gates Foundation. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers, Fortune’s 40 under 40, Oprah’s Super Soul 100, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

Give and Take Summary

Summary of Give and Take

You probably know that hard work, passion, luck, and talent all play a major role in determining how successful you’ll be in your working life.

But did you know that there’s another factor – your reciprocity style – that is just as important, if not more important?

Adam Grant explains all about this newly emerging factor of success in his brilliant book “Give and Take”.

Let’s explore some of the ways your reciprocity style can make or break your success…

“Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

What Is Success Made Of?

Most people assume that success – in the workplace and beyond – is composed of 3 different elements: motivation, ability, and opportunity. 

“highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity.” 

That’s not a bad definition. It certainly seems worthy of a high school textbook, but it leaves out one very critical element: how you deal with other people or, as Grant calls it, your reciprocity style. 

3 Social Styles

Reciprocity style is an academic lingo for describing how you interact with people around you, and Grant breaks down these behavioral tendencies into three groups: Takers, Matchers, and Givers.

These styles tackle everything from core values and motivations to daily behaviors and attitudes. Because these social tendencies are so pervasive, we take them with us wherever we go and while you might not be immediately aware of what category you fit into, chances are the people you work with have already picked up on your style type.

Uh oh! Feeling like you don’t fit into one category?

That doesn’t make you a freak. It’s perfectly normal. In different settings or stages of life, you may fluctuate between different reciprocity styles. Just notice when and where one dominant style appears in your life.

These three reciprocity styles are everywhere we look – jobs, homes, families, politics, churches, and beyond. 

You wouldn’t necessarily want to own up to your reciprocity style by featuring it on your resume or singing it from the rooftops. Looking at yourself through such an objective lens doesn’t always reveal drop-dead gorgeous insights – sometimes you just want to drop dead. Still, Grant suggests that everyone can increase their Giver behavior and Givers can learn to be more intelligent with their generosity. 

Not to mention that studies have a lot to say about which particular social style comes out on top – and I bet it’s not what you were expecting.

Which Reciprocity Style Is Most Successful?

As the youngest tenured and highest-rated professor at Wharton, Grant often uses the students in his class as a barometer for social assumptions. When asked to rank each reciprocity style in terms of likelihood to succeed, his students predicted that Givers would be on the bottom, with an equal mix of Matchers and Takers on top. 

Makes sense, right?

“Takers have a distinctive signature: they like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs.”

Actually, Grant’s research tells a much different story. His research illustrated that both the top and bottom of the success ladder were populated by the same reciprocity style. Givers, while Takers and Matchers were more likely to land in the middle. But one very important characteristic separated Givers that soared, and those Givers that got left behind. 

“Success involves more than just capitalizing on the strengths of giving: it also requires avoiding the pitfalls.” 

Most people are Matchers. They simply “match” the reciprocity style of the people they interact with. If you give to a matcher, he’ll gladly give back to you. If you take from a matcher, he’ll envy you and try to get even next time.

“Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you’re a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your relationships are governed by even exchanges of favors.”

Let’s invent some imaginary situations and see how each reciprocity style might react. Let’s say you’re a postman and are bringing the mail for Mr. Johnson. Unfortunately, it’s wrong Mr. Johnson. In this scenario, the Giver will likely help you try to find the real Mr. Johnson and the real address. The Giver is compassionate and is truly interested in helping you. He might put in a considerable amount of effort to help you. On the other hand, the Matchers and Takers probably won’t help you – there’s nothing in it for them.

Let’s say you’re moving and need some help next Saturday. A Giver will check his schedule and, if he’s free, gladly join you without thinking much about it. A matcher will join you if he owes you a favor or if he thinks he can get equally as much back from you in the near future. A Taker will only join you if he thinks he can get more back from you. Otherwise, he’ll make up an excuse and pass.

In brief:

  • Takers try to get as much from other people as possible while contributing as little as they can.
  • Givers are generally people who enjoy helping others and are fine with giving more than they receive.
  • Matchers aim for quid pro quo – I help you, you help me.

What Separates The Givers At the Top From Those At the Bottom?

Though they share the same reciprocity style, Givers don’t all perform at the same level – far from it. Some Givers experience enormous success while others barely get their wings off the ground. Some are on fire, while others burn out. 

Many people avoid acting as a Giver in the workplace for fear of becoming a doormat, being taken advantage of, being too empathetic, trusting, or timid. In fact, selfless qualities such as these are exactly what stunts some Givers on their path to success.

Grant’s research found that successful Givers aren’t just more other-oriented than their peers, but they are also more self-interested. They value the greater good and they value their own interests and needs. They are altruistic and ambitious, and that ability to put themselves on their own priority list is what prevents them from getting steam-rollered, burnt out, and left behind.

Grant refers to this as the ability to be “other-ish”, rather than selfless. It’s the ability to employ a more flexible reciprocity style and to adapt matcher tendencies when you find yourself confronted with a Taker. Givers were are able to be other-ish, are positioned for success and are able to do well for themselves by doing good for others.

Why Giving Will Become Even More Important

  1. Reputation is acquired much quicker:

“Without telephones, the Internet, and high-speed transportation, building relationships and reputations was a slow process. “In the old world, you could send a letter, and no one knew,” Conley says. Conley believes that in today’s connected world, where relationships and reputations are more visible, givers can accelerate their pace.”

You can build trust, goodwill, and a great reputation much more quickly than a few hundred years ago.

And, as far as Takers are concerned, you can also destroy your reputation much more quickly today than before the Internet, telephones, and other technology.

2. We work with people and in teams more often:

“Today, more than half of American and European companies regularly use teams to get work done.”

Giving really only helps you succeed when you’ve got the chance of working with other people. If you’re interacting with others, luck, talent, and hard work are obviously much more important to become successful.

As teamwork becomes more and more common, Givers gain a huge advantage over Matchers and Takers. Whenever they’re working with people, they get opportunities to demonstrate their value, build trust and goodwill, and improve their reputation.

3. The service sector keeps growing:

“Even if you don’t work in a team, odds are that you hold a service job. Most of our grandparents worked in independent jobs producing goods. They didn’t always need to collaborate with other people, so it was fairly inefficient to be a giver. But now, a high percentage of people work in interconnected jobs providing services to others. In the 1980s, the service sector made up about half of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). By 1995, the service sector was responsible for nearly two thirds of world GDP. Today, more than 80 percent of Americans work in service jobs.”

Give and Take – Actions for Impact

Grant’s goal in writing the book was to prove to his students that acting as a Giver can bring as much or more success than acting as a Taker. He also suggests a number of ways to encourage everyone within your organization or social network to ramp up their Giver tendencies.

Here are his suggestions:

#1 – Test your Giver quotient

#2 – Run a reciprocity ring to encourage sharing and support within an organization. 

#3 – Help other people craft their jobs, or craft your own to incorporate more giving. 

#4 – Be willing to do a 5-minute favor for anyone, regardless of the value they can provide to you in return. 

#5 – Join a community of Givers (such as Freecycle, ServiceSpace, or HelpOthers). 

#6 – Launch a generosity experiment. 

#7 – Fund a project on KickStarter or GoFundMe.

#8 – Seek help more often.


According to conventional wisdom, successful people have the motivation, ability, and opportunity ahead of others. Success, however, depends on how we approach our interactions with others.

Every time we interact with a work colleague, we have a choice to make, do we claim as much value as we can, or contribute without worrying about what we receive in return.

There are Givers and Takers in life. Takers have a distinctive profile – they like to get more than they give. Takers believe that the world is a dog eat dog place. To prove their competence, they self promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts. Givers are a relatively rare breed. They prefer to give more than they get. Givers focus on what other people need from them.

Most people act like Givers in close relationships like marriage because we don’t keep score in such relationships.

When Takers win, someone else usually loses. Givers give in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. Giving is particularly risky with Takers. Most venture capitalists are big Takers, always squeezing the idea owner.

Networks are important and give three advantages-information, diverse skills, and power. Strong networks help gain access to knowledge, expertise, and influence.

Takers may rise by kissing up, but they often fall by kicking down. Takers and Matchers use networks strategically. They tend to focus on who can help them in the near future and this dictates what they give.

Takers are black holes, they suck energy from the system. The Givers are suns, they inject light around the organization. Givers create opportunities for their colleagues to contribute to a meeting, they listen, even if they disagree, they don’t belittle people.

Givers code of honor is: A) show up, B) Work hard, C) Be kind and D) take the high road. Givers create psychological safety- a climate where everyone feels they can contribute and it’s okay to fall flat and fail or being judged or punished. Psychologically safe environments help people learn and innovate more.

What did you learn from Give and Take summary? What was your favorite takeaway? Is there an important insight that we missed? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.

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Related book summaries:

Book review and summary of Originals by Adam Grant, Sheryl Sandberg (Open in the app)

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 Summary of Give and Take
Give and Take summary

Adapted from Caravan Content blog post, Shiv Shivakumar Presentation, and Njlife Hacks.

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