Review: Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success

a takeThis review first ran in the June 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

By Adam Grant



I stole the idea and then Jane Allison kicked it up a notch.

Back in 2008, the good folks at the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction asked if I’d proofread a whack of posters. The posters showcased the good works of about 70 local nonprofits and groups. True to form, I didn’t find a single typo. But I uncovered a trove of great community building success stories that were also best kept secrets.

Around the same time, I read about a Making Media Connections Conference in Chicago. It’s an annual event that brings nonprofits and journalists together for a day’s worth of workshops and speed-dating where story ideas get pitched.

So I borrowed the conference idea from the Windy City and brought it to Steeltown. About two dozen nonprofits that had been featured in the posters signed on for the free media relations summer camp. Jane, who’s the manager of community partnerships with The Hamilton Spectator, was one of the PR pros who volunteered as a camp counselor and helped the campers polish and practice their pitches.

Not only did Jane offer to host the next camp in the Spectator’s auditorium. She also recruited a panel of reporters and editors who met the campers, critiqued their pitches and demystified the process of working with the media. And over the years, some of the best pitches from campers have wound up in print.

If Adam Grant went to the camp, he’d quickly peg Jane as a giver. Grant’s the author of Give and Take and Wharton’s youngest tenured professor and single highest rated teacher. He’s out to show that how we interact with our colleagues can have as much bearing on our success as hard work, talent and luck.

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

That choice reveals whether we’re a giver, taker or matcher.

Takers are out to get more than they give. They see work and life as a dog-eat-dog, zero sum game. If you win, they lose. At their worst, takers are shameless self-promoters with a compulsion to be smartest person in any room. They’re loathe to admit mistakes, which can be bad news if takers are leading up projects that have gone off the rails. For takers, it’s all about squeezing you dry and then moving on once you have nothing left to give.

Matchers aim to strike an equal balance between giving and taking. They believe in an equal, tit for tat exchange of favours. They’ll scratch your back now with an expectation that you’ll scratch their back in the not so distant future.

Givers in the workplace are a rare breed, says Grant. They prefer to give more than they get.  They’re generous in freely sharing their time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections with no strings attached.

Grant is out to dispel the myth that givers at work are chumps and doormats. Yes, some givers are at risk of burning out and getting burned by misleading takers who mask their true motivations. But other givers figure out how to spot takers and adjust accordingly and prove to be superior workers, leaders, communicators and negotiators. Good guys finish first.

There’s a wealth of research showing that on the ladder of success, givers hold the top rung ahead of takers and matchers. When takers succeed, the rest of us look to knock them down a peg. When givers succeed, we cheer them on. As one giver tells Grant, it’s easier to win if everybody wants you to win.

“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers,” says Grant. “They get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. There’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades. When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses.”

Grant ends his book with 10 practical actions. There’s a free online assessment at to find out if you’re a giver, matcher or taker.

Grant also endorses setting up a reciprocity ring at work. Each week, you bring coworkers together for 20 minutes to ask for help and offer a hand.

And then there’s the five minute favour practiced by Silicon Valley’s Adam Rifkin, who’s been crowned America’s best networker by FORTUNE magazine. “You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody,” says Rifkin. Instead of trading value, Rifkin looks to add value and encourages the people in his ever-growing network to become givers and help others.

At the end of the month, Jane will be adding value for campers and community builders from 21 local nonprofits and groups.  And as a gracious host, she’ll prove why it’s better to give than to receive.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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