Book Reviews, Business, Nonfiction

Book Review: Give and Take by Adam Grant

Title: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success
Author: Adam Grant
My rating: 5 / 5
In a nutshell: You probably have to work with other people on a daily basis. Give and Take provides a new model for doing business that is based on the golden rule, and I found it compelling. Even if you don’t regularly read business books, this one is worth checking out.

I have a weird fascination with business books. On the one hand, I love growing and improving myself, especially in the workplace. On the other hand, sometimes I just want to read fun books that don’t require so much introspection.

Give and Take is a happy medium. It has a compelling premise and is quick and easy to read. No superfluous navel-gazing here.

Give and Take also succeeds at being just the right length. I tried reading Start with Why by Simon Sinek, and got bored in the middle because it was repetitive and better suited to an article than a full length book. Grant’s conversational, storytelling writing style makes it an interesting read, and extensive research makes his arguments compelling.


The Positive

In Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant debunks the myth that “good guys end up last” in life and business. By exploring workplace reciprocity styles and whether you’re a taker, matcher, or giver, Grant argues that being a giver can lead to future success.

The book focuses on what successful givers do differently, but I felt like there were many good lessons about effective leadership too.

By Grant’s definition, “takers” are people who take more than they give, “matchers” seek to balance the scales of giving and getting, and “givers” give more than they take. Grant argues that our success in the workplace goes far beyond traditional measures of success—talent, luck, motivation—and instead depends upon our relationships with other people.

“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?”

-Adam Grant, 2013, p. 4

Being a giver isn’t about money, it’s about sharing your talents, resources, and insights for the continual good of others. Throughout the book, Grant argues that instead of taking first and giving later, the path to success could be giving first and succeeding later.

Givers have a unique approach to networking, collaborating, evaluating, and influencing others. In zero-sum environments, takers and matchers come out ahead. But life is rarely a zero-sum game. In the long run, those who focus on helping others succeed by building goodwill receive dividends throughout their careers.

But what about the time I helped that person and they got a promotion over me?

You might be thinking. I wondered too. In the second part of the book, Grant discusses how giver tendencies can also backfire, and how givers can avoid common pitfalls: They can avoid becoming pushovers and doormats by advocating for others rather than themselves, and they can resist burnout by pursuing opportunities where their impact is visible.

My own beliefs about leadership include things like the importance of perseverance and passion, the power of habits we form, and the connection between workplace culture and productivity—things I’ve learned from books like Grit by Angela Duckworth and The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

I’ve always believed that the best leaders serve, but until reading this book, I didn’t understand on a practical level. This book helped me see that I can be kind, caring, and others-focused while still being ambitious about accomplishing my personal goals.

My Critique

The book did a good job of inspiring me to practice the “giver” work style in my own job. However, I do wish the book had included more practical applications and analysis of the concepts Grant presented. Although research in the book indicates that giving more can eventually result in a changed mindset, the author doesn’t give many tips for how takers or matchers can become better givers, other than implying you should just “fake it ‘til you make it.”

On the other hand, giving more seems simple—just do something without expectation of return. It would have been helpful to see practical ways matchers and takers can change their habits. Grant spent a lot of time describing what givers do but didn’t discuss how takers and matchers can learn to be different. I also would have liked a more robust analysis of how people develop their reciprocity style. Grant’s focus on proving points and presenting research was helpful, but I wanted a bit more. The benefits of being a giver are clear, but how does one get there?

All that said, I do think Give and Take would be a great book to read with your coworkers as a professional development tool. No matter where you are in the organizational structure, understanding the giver reciprocity style will prove beneficial—maybe even career-changing.

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