Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

Reviewed on , book by Adam M. Grant

As with any business book with respect for itself, Give and Take uses a model to simplify the world: there are three different types of people: takers; who take more than they give, matchers; who give and take about equally by keeping score, and givers; who give more than they take. When you look at their performance, givers do worst, then takers, matchers, and finally givers again. Why? Because if you only give without ever asking for help, you’re off poorly. However, if you give and ask for help here and there, your relationships compound slowly, but surely:

In the study of Belgian medical students, the givers earned significantly lower grades in their first year of medical school. The givers were at a disadvantage—and the negative correlation between giver scores and grades was stronger than the effect of smoking on the odds of getting lung cancer. But that was the only year of medical school in which the givers underperformed. By their second year, the givers had made up the gap: they were now slightly outperforming their peers. By the sixth year, the givers earned substantially higher grades than their peers.
These relationships are important. Often when people switch jobs, they underestimate how interdependent they are on their environment. Surgeons don’t get better with practice, the hospital does. If you move the surgeon, they’re back to performing however the next hospital does. When star analysts move in the financial world, they’re less likely to be in the top of the new firms for five years. If they move with a teammate, they’re more likely to be doing better.

The book is jam-packed with humbling stories of people who push behind the scenes and make other people look amazing. One of the authors on Simpsons is legendary, but he didn’t put his name on the episodes, he allowed the young hot-shots to do it—but he molded everything into great shape.

There’s also a lot of semi-random psychology (the author seems to read every study under the sun), which I didn’t mind since it was typically great. For example, how kids randomly labelled as ‘bloomers’ are 50% more likely to do well because teachers and parents believe in the potential and thus treat them differently.

Another one of those somewhat random interludes was this one on the importance of vulnurability:

Half of the time, the candidate was an expert, getting 92 percent of questions right. The other half of the time, the candidate had only average knowledge, getting 30 percent right. As expected, audiences favored the expert. But an interesting wrinkle emerged when the tape included a clumsy behavior by the candidate. Dishes crashed, and the candidate said, “Oh, my goodness—I’ve spilled coffee all over my new suit.” When the average candidate was clumsy, audiences liked him even less. But when the expert was clumsy, audiences liked him even more. Psychologists call this the pratfall effect. Spilling a cup of coffee hurt the image of the average candidate: it was just another reason for the audience to dislike him. But the same blunder helped the expert appear human and approachable—instead of superior and distant.
Overall, enjoyable book. I picked it up after listening to a podcast with the author because I couldn’t stop thinking about the ‘giver and taker’ terminology to describe behaviour going on around me.