Give & Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

By Adam Grant, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D.

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Adam Grant has a message for us, a big message: Success does not have to come at someone else’s expense.

Rarely has a business-oriented book offered something so powerfully dynamic for me. They almost never get more than a thoughtful nod as a good perspective or interesting approach to business. This book is different because it lays bare the approach to success as a dynamic feature that exists through the exchange that happens between people — not only people looking for higher profits, but those who strive to be successfully engaged in their lives and careers. As the title suggests, this is no ordinary approach. Revolutionary is, indeed, the correct term.

Adam Grant is a gifted storyteller and a consummate teacher and researcher. As the youngest tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business he has put forth a precisely organized and exceptionally well-crafted book. It is a perfect balance between classic storytelling, case study, research and information resource.  He transcends self-help or formulaic coaching by giving the reader research-supported insight into the value and benefit of giving, and then highlights these findings with finely constructed examples.  Once he has captured the reader’s attention, he provides a detailed resource directory and explanation with more information on how to make changes.  This is a powerful format, particularly in the hands of someone as proficient as he is in each of the components.

The opening chapter sets the book squarely on its path as Grant notes that highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. He then introduces a fourth factor, the way we approach others.  To use his terms, we are givers, takers or matchers.

The finely tuned case studies highlight the nuances of giving, taking and matching and give the reader a deeper understanding of how each profile looks in the real world. As an example, early on Grant discusses research that shows that givers are often at the bottom of their class.  But herein lies the power of the book.  As a reader you are continually drawn into the process of discovery and understanding.  When he explains that givers are also at the top of their class you become eager to learn what makes the difference.

This is a style that runs through the book and it is deeply engaging.  Just when you think you can guess what the answer will be, Grant uses research or a case study to expose the other side of the coin.  He gets his readers thinking about the elements he has introduced, and then gives us ample information, examples, and rationale to elevate our thinking and make his point.  His experience as a world-class teacher is evident throughout.

Why is giving such an important factor for us to understand? Eighty percent of Americans are in the service sector and this means that collaboration is essential to our everyday lives.  To get things done we have to figure out how to get along with others. Grant has offered an approach for accomplishing just that.

What is most engrossing about Grant’s book is the exceedingly broad range of data and information used to build support for his approach.  Examples include the collapse of Enron and the telltale signs of a photoanalysis of its CEO in their company reports; the study of cardiac surgeons who do better in surgery when they are more familiar with their surgical team; and the possible reasons for Frank Lloyd Wright’s 10-year dearth of activity as an architect.  The book is filled with information and examples that compel the reader to consider this perspective.  Even the footnotes are fascinating, often adding distinction to a fact, or offering the research for an opposing argument.

The book builds toward an emphasis on practical application and the real-world value of giving behavior, with an emphasis on how these principles are thwarted and how they are being used successfully. Perspective gaps, the need for psychological safety, and ego threats can be some of the hindrances. Expedition behavior (where the group’s goals are put first); how talented people prevent others from being jealous; and the advantages of a five-minute favor are just a few useful ideas told through story and research.

The book also looks at some historical blunders by takers and success by givers.  It is well worth reading the likely reason Jonas Salk was never admitted to the National Academy of Sciences, and the input of one giver who helped make Saturday Night Live and the Simpsons so successful. You will also enjoy understanding the difference between people who use Craigslist and those on Freecycle.

Phrases and terms stick with you as you read. “Givers get lucky” and “Giving can be contagious” are two of my favorites.  The latter is explored in the book’s final chapters.

The Reciprocity Ring exercise, described in detail, uses the power of a group’s giving capacity to advance the requests from each of its members.  It sounds almost too good to be true, but I twice have had the opportunity to be part of these exercises and have been stunned not only by what people can do to help others, but by what I was able to contribute.  Giving can indeed be contagious.  The Reciprocity Ring is a highly worthwhile exercise to learn about and take part in and help create.

The final chapter alone is worth the cost of the book.  It is an extensive list of resources for application and investigation of the principles laid out in the book.  Each recommendation comes with a detailed description of the content.

My recommendation? Buy this book, read it, and put it into practice. If you are like me, some of the ideas will be easier to implement than others.  But I encourage you to stick with it.  In fact, I would go so far as to say — give until you get it.

Psych Central's Recommendation:
Worth Your Time! +++

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APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2013). Give & Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/give-take-a-revolutionary-approach-to-success/00017581
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Aug 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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