Steve Pollack Book Review | Give and Take by Adam Grant

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give and take

Give and Take by Adam Grant Book Review

In the book Give and Take by Adam Grant the author, a Harvard graduate with a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, lays out his thoroughly researched premise that people differ dramatically from one another in their preferences for reciprocity – that is, in their desired mix of taking and giving.

Dr. Grant divides people into three general reciprocity categories:

Takers – Like to get more than they give. Will put their interests ahead of others. They strategically self-promote, and are sure to get credit for their efforts.

Givers – Prefer to give more than they get. Givers are “other-focused” paying attention to how they can fill the needs of others. They seek to add value to the team or the organization when and where it is needed.

Matchers – See giving and taking as actions that should be fair, balanced, and reciprocated. Matchers will seek to help others, with the idea that their help will be matched with a favor at some point in time.

Of course, we all can, and often do, move in and out of these three reciprocity styles in various situations, but Grant asserts that in our work lives there is an overall style we tend to embody, and we will build a reputation for that style over time – becoming known at work for our giving, taking or matching.

As an educational psychologist and Wharton professor, Dr. Grant has dedicated over a decade of his life to studying these three reciprocity styles and has found that they have staggering consequences in their application in the workplace. He discusses these consequences in-depth, giving examples from the lives and choices of real people from various walks of life. The work choices of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, CEOs, comedy writers, sports agents, athletes, and many other professionals whose reciprocity styles heavily influenced their careers are explored in detail.

Early in the first chapter of Give and Take, Grant asks an interesting question – and does not answer it for the reader immediately. Before providing his data-informed answer, he wants you to think about the question and its consequences in the real world:

"Who is most likely to end up at the bottom of the success ladder, takers, givers or matchers?"

We have all heard the saying “good guys finish last,” and the answer to Grant’s question both confirms and debunks that famous saying. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say you have to read Give and Take to understand how “good guys finish last” can be both true and false.

One of Grant’s most important points in Give and Take is that in the age of the Internet, with LinkedIn and other social media outlets at our fingertips, our work reputations have become much more public, making our reciprocity styles much more intrinsic to our career success.

In the past, a toxic taker could move from company to company or community to community wreaking havoc in relative anonymity – especially if they were charismatic and exceptional at self-promotion. But that kind of anonymity is a thing of the past. A person’s selfish acts will likely result in a public reckoning, and a reputation for taking will follow that person wherever they go.

Conversely, before the Internet, a team player with a generous reciprocity style at work could go unnoticed for decades, being perceived as weak or “too nice” and passed over in favor of more aggressively ambitious co-workers. Today, the Internet provides an easily-accessible permanent archive, where a person with a generous work style will accumulate glowing recommendations that serve to influence the way others perceive the value added by their giver reciprocity style.

The word "groundbreaking" is often used to describe a book, but Give and Take really is that. It is a unique, powerful, and convincing take on an important subject. This book has the potential to change the reader's perspective about reciprocity, and how it adds (or subtracts) value at work. The ideas in this book will linger in your thoughts long after reading it, and you will begin to see evidence of Grant’s hypotheses everywhere you look.

The best thing about Give and Take is Grant’s brilliant use of data to back up his theories. Yes, he offers dozens of captivating anecdotes featuring real-life consequences of giving, taking, and matching. His stories illustrate how these reciprocity styles have either produced or reduced value in the work lives of others. But, at the core of this book is research. Grant cites study after study to drive home his ideas about reciprocity.

Finally, Grant does not just present an argument for elevating the status of giving, he ends the book with ten actions the reader can take to accelerate their giving and encourage others to become givers as well:

  1. Test your giver quotient
    Track your impact and assess your self-awareness at Give and Take.

  2. Participate in “Reciprocity Rings”
    Scheduled gatherings of 15 to 30 where team members have an opportunity to make requests and fill the requests of others.

  3. Help co-workers make room for more giving at work
    Brainstorm ways to include meaningful tasks into coworkers' roles to add interest and well-being to their daily work lives.

  4. Start a “love machine” at your job
    This is a peer recognition program to reward people who give in ways that tend to go unnoticed. At Love Machine Inc team members can send each other short messages that are publically visible.

  5. Embrace the “five minute favor”
    Once a week, strategically introduce two people in your LinkedIn connections who can benefit from knowing one another. Once a month reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in years and ask what they are working on and how you can help. Visit Meet Up / 106 Miles and ask people what they need and look for ways to help.

  6. Practice “powerless communication”
    This is where you intentionally change your communication style from mostly talking to mostly listening, from self-promoting to advice-seeking, and from advocating to inquiring. Visit for more information about powerless communication.

  7. Join a community of givers
    In Give and Take, Grant lists several online communities you can join that are giving-focused.

  8. Launch a personal giving experiment
    For example: 30-day Become a Good Citizen Challenge

  9. Help fund a project
    For projects that need your help, visit or (microloans of 25 or more to entrepreneurs in the developing world.

  10. Seek help more often|
    Don't hesitate to ask for help. Your request allows others to express their value and feel valued. Start the spark of reciprocity by asking for what you need.

Steve Pollack





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