For Book Club this month we read Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. In this book, Adam Grant categorizes people into three types: givers, matchers, and takers. Givers proactively help others, matchers try to give exactly as much as they get, and takers attempt to get more than they give, believing that this is required to be successful. Grant writes about the advantages and disadvantages of adopting a giving “reciprocity style” in the workplace, and highlights that givers can be both the most and least successful with data; the primary difference between successful and unsuccessful givers is knowing how to establish boundaries.
It was an interesting discussion at book club. Everyone enjoyed the book, either as a reflection to understand one’s personal style and whether or not we consistently show up that way in all contexts, or as a way to think through strategies when you are confronted with a person who isn’t matching your reciprocity style. The examples are clear in the book: people who accomplish great things can be all styles across any profession (Frank Lloyd Wright and Jonas Salk are examples of takers who met with great success in architecture and science respectively, and Adam Rifkin and Abraham Lincoln are given as examples of givers who met with great success in fields of entrepreneurship and politics), but he makes the case that givers are the MOST successful based on several studies in the long run. Fundamentally, we all appreciated a world view in which the “good guy” wins in the end.
If there is any critique I would personally give this book it is two-fold:
1. The classifications of styles are singular and ascribed to the individual vs. the context, and that has not been my personal experience. I have met many people who are givers at home, but not in the workplace, and arguably it is the culture of the workplace that leads to their choices in this matter. A company who celebrates giving back (in the form of mentorship, sponsorship, industry contributions, etc.) nurtures a culture of “give as much as we can give without hurting the business” vs. a “take more than you give” approach. That percolates into every decision one’s employees take, and how they interact with one another–the best in people will come out if you reward it. If you work at a company with a “winner takes all” business mindset, I have seen that trickle into who gets promoted/recognized/etc. and in those companies a giver will struggle to succeed.
I honestly believe most people want to give to others (and Grant also calls this out in the book), but they have to feel that they can, and companies/leaders/managers can do a lot to foster that kind of community and trust. Grant focuses on the individual as if this is entirely their choice and control, and doesn’t tackle the systems which contribute. That notion clashes with my world view that people are usually good, and systems create the majority of the bad behavior. I appreciate the individualism in his approach, but I think we as leaders need to tackle our systems for rewards in order to ensure that we are cultivating environments to enable people to work best together.
2. All of the givers, takers, and matchers given as examples in the book are men of European descent. I can see two reasons for this: one, Grant is trying to normalize the data and therefore stick with one “type”; two, there is bias in the historical record making it harder to discern a consistent signal on female and minority figures of the past.
In book club I brought up the observation that there were no female examples in the book. It was a difficult conversation: bias is a touchy subject, and I almost felt bad mentioning it, yet it stood out to me that there wasn’t an account of a woman in the entire book who was noted as a giver, taker, or matcher. Research done by women and underrepresented minorities was cited, so I don’t believe this speaks to Grant’s bias against people, but rather the possibilities above: this was a conscious decision to normalize, or he felt there wasn’t enough historical information to make a strong conclusion.
It was interesting to me that no one else noticed this (indicates that I might be over-sensitive), and that the response to me bringing it up led to a discussion about safety to have difficult conversations, and even the concept of meta conversation (discussions about discussions rather than the actual topic) in order to align upon how we would approach this observation. (Aside: I love that this little community we have built will delve into the concept of meta communications to frame a discussion and then dive in!)
We did have a short conversation about the observation (our time was running out), and the conclusion was that there are gendered norms around reciprocity, and there are gendered expectations around communication styles, but delving into those would be a different book. Examples of books which attempt to tackle the research include Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, and I’m sure more, so maybe this was indeed a conscious choice by Grant to stick to examples in one gender and race profile, which maybe could be applied to others, but he didn’t attempt to do so.
Within our book club we represent a wide array of races and genders and we all could think of examples of givers, takers, and matchers across all of these lines, so I believe Grant’s observations of types hold. What was less clear to us was whether or not his conclusion about givers being the most successful over time would hold. It is truly hard to say, and maybe should delve into a discussion about what success is (which often changes throughout one’s life)…that too is a different book (The Second Mountain, and Designing Your Life come to mind as books I really enjoyed tackling that realm).
Ultimately I like the notion of living in a world with Karma, and trying to give more than we get. Most situations are not “fixed pie” scenarios, and finding ways to reframe decisions into win-win situations has been one of the most important insights in my professional life. I really enjoyed the book and recommend it highly.