Summaries: Give And Take

Adam Grant is one of my favourite authors and influencers. He’s a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, author of three books and has an incredible capacity for distilling heavily academic topics into generalised and easy-to-read pieces of information. If you don’t already, I highly recommend following him on Facebook (and making sure to select the option to see his posts first) to keep yourself current on business-related academia and how it applies to your everyday life.

Give and Take is Grant’s first book and it was published in 2013. The book centres around the benefits of giving in a professional and personal environment. It includes practical actions for becoming a better giver.

Grant establishes the concept of Givers, Takers and Matchers early on in the book to explain many of the concepts. Essentially, a Giver is someone who assists others and will frequently give more than they receive, a Matcher contributes according to the amount their partner provides and a Taker seeks to gain more than they give in an interaction.

With that out the way, please enjoy my favourite takeaways from Give and Take.

Getting Started

It seems counterintuitive, but the more altruistic your attitude, the more benefits you will gain from the relationship. If you set out to help others, you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities” – Reid Hoffmann, Founder of LinkedIn. (Pg 36)

It’s easier to win if everybody wants you to win. If you don’t make enemies out there it’s easier to succeed.” – Randy Komisar, Venture Capitalist. (Pg 12)

  • The episode “Whole Foods Market: John Mackey” from the podcast How I Built This by NPR demonstrates this idea beautifully. A young Mackey, who was expanding his vegetarian and organic food store to a second location, reached out to a capable competitor and invited them to join him. Instead of trying to out-compete them, Mackey offered them a share of his success and in the process he gained an ally, access to their knowledge and contacts and reduced his competition.


The five-minute favour:You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody.” Adam Rifkin, LinkedIn’s Best Networker. (Pg 64, 259, 305)

  • Rifkin’s two favourite offers are to give honest feedback and make an introduction, which he describes as “low-cost to oneself coupled with the potentially high benefit to others.” 

Networking and Collaboration

On Idiosyncrasy Credits:Positive impressions that accumulate in the minds of group members. Once a group member earns idiosyncrasy credits through giving, matchers grant that member a license to deviate from a group’s norms or expectations.” – Edwin Hollander, Psychologist. (Pg 87)

  • This is backed-up by Sociologist Robb Willer who notes, “Groups reward individual sacrifice”. 

On helping others become givers:Seek help more often. When you ask for help you’re not always imposing a burden. Some people are givers, and by asking for help you’re creating an opportunity for them to express their values and feel valued… Help generously and without thought of return; but also ask often for what you need.” – Wayne and Cheryl Baker. (Pg 309)

Talent Management

On developing your employees:The identification of talent may be the wrong place to start” when looking for superstars. “Identify high-potential people and then provide them with the mentoring, support and resources needed to grow to achieve their potential.” (Pg 120)

  • Believe in potential, apply mentoring and support and produce the talent you seek. 


When it comes to communication, Grant explains an approach that I had never really given meaningful thought to: Powerless Communication. Taken from the book, “Powerless communicators tend to speak less assertively, expressing plenty of doubt and relying heavily on advice from others. They talk in ways that signal vulnerability, revealing their weaknesses and making use of disclaimers, hedges, and hesitations.” This, Grant explains, is actually the way to truly influence others and be seen as more likeable and knowledgeable. (Pg 151)

On direct persuasion:In direct persuasion, the audience is constantly aware of the fact that they have been persuaded by another. Where self-persuasion occurs, people are convinced that the motivation for change has come from within.” – Elliot Aronson, psychologist. (Pg 164)

  • Related: “The art of advocacy is to lead you to my conclusions on your own terms… you’ll hold onto them more strongly.” Dave Walton, employment law expert. 

Gift Giving

On registry gifts:They found that senders consistently underestimated how much recipients appreciated registry gifts… recipients reported significantly greater appreciation for registered gifts than unique gifts.” (Pg 103)

  • When we take others perspectives we tend to stay within our own frames for reference, imagining the joy we would have of receiving a gift that we picked out. This is in contrast to considering the joy the recipient would gain from getting a gift they themselves truly wished for. 


On the gender wage gap:… [it] wasn’t quite due to the glass ceiling. Men and Women received similar starting offers and the discrepancies emerged by the time they signed their final offers.” (Pg 233)

  • Upon inspection, economist Linda Babcock discovered a dramatic difference between men and women in the willingness to ask for more money. 

On negotiating deals:As expected, the joint gains were highest when both parties were very intelligent. Bruce Barry and Ray Friedman broke down each party’s gains, expecting to find the smarter negotiators getting better deals for themselves. But they didn’t. The brightest negotiators got better deals for their counterparts.” (Pg 292)

  • Relating back to the idea of idiosyncrasy credits and our colleagues giving back in the same measure as they receive. 


On generosity burnout:Strong evidence reveals that burned out employees are at heightened risk for depression, physical fatigue, sleep disruptions, impaired immune systems, alcohol abuse and even cardiovascular disease.” (Pg 186)

  • I love this section because it addresses the topic of work-life balance, something that really interests me. Grant also has a great series on Harvard Business Review titled Generosity Burnout which covers this topic in more depth.

On why people do not admit to being givers:They do not believe others share the same values and think they will be belittled if they express them… These effects can arise because sometimes when people act on the basis of ideology, they inadvertently arrange the very conditions that bring reality into correspondence with the ideology” – Barry Schwartz, psychologist. (Pg 281)

Parting Notes

On happiness:Overall, on average, happier people earn more money, get higher performance ratings, make better decisions, negotiate sweeter deals, and contribute more to their organisations… Happiness alone accounts for 10 percent of the variation between employees in job performance.”  (Pg 213)

  • Another reason why employee happiness is critical and should be a heavily invested in area of business.

On giving:We spend the majority of our waking hours at work. This means that what we do at the work becomes a fundamental part of who we are. If we reserve giver values for our personal lives, what will we be missing in our professional lives? By shifting ever so slightly in the giver direction, we might find our waking hours marked by greater success, richer meaning and more lasting impact.” (Pg 299)

Give and Take is terrific exploration into what it means to be success and the somewhat unconventional path that can lead us there. If you would like to read Give and Take (which I highly recommend) you can find a copy here.


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