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Give and Take - Book Review

1 September 2014
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success," authored by Adam Grant in 2013, presents innovative concepts.


At first glance, the book's title might lead one to assume it's about negotiation, but this is not the case. Instead, it delves into the characteristics of individuals who give generously without calculating their returns and those who consistently offer help or contribute to others. These individuals, in reality, are the ones who attain genuine success or, at the very least, have the potential for it.


The book introduces three distinct archetypes of people: "the givers," "the takers," and the "balancers." Surprisingly, it's the act of giving that emerges as the key to achieving success.


The book explores several key topics:
  1. The Three Types of people

  2. Why Successful Givers Succeed

  3. Why Some Givers Face Challenges

  4. Practical Tips for Personal Improvement


Accompanying the book is an introduction featuring recommendations from numerous prominent figures in the field of management worldwide. This is the first time I've encountered such an impressive lineup in the preface of a book. All that remains is for me to add my voice and recommend reading this book as well. As Daniel Pink eloquently states, the ideas presented in this book will keep your mind pondering long after you've finished reading it. It's unquestionably a worthwhile read.


The Three Types

The book primarily revolves around the classification of individuals into three distinct categories:

  1. "Takers" – These individuals primarily focus on receiving more than they give, consistently seeking to come out as winners, often at the expense of others.

  2. "Givers" – These individuals readily extend themselves to others, contribute, and invest in them, even if it means sacrificing their interests.

  3. "Balancers" – Representing the majority of the population, these individuals strike a balance, considering their interests concerning others and guiding their actions accordingly.


These classifications serve as different styles of social interaction. To help readers identify their type, the book suggests a self-assessment questionnaire, available at this link: http://www.giveandtake.com/


While some might assume that givers tend to occupy the lower rungs of progress and success because they often prioritize others over their interests, especially in competitive scenarios, this assumption holds some truth. However, it's intriguing that givers can also be found at the pinnacle of success. Despite the potential drawbacks associated with their generous nature, they possess other qualities that propel them forward. It's essential to recognize that motivation, ability, and opportunity remain vital factors influencing success (thus, takers and balancers can also reach the top). In alignment with Danny Shader and David Hornick, Adam Grant introduces a fourth component related to one's approach – giving, which he praises as an additional element.


As a result, the path to success involves two vital aspects: embracing the role of a "giver" and learning to avoid the pitfalls that can lead to setbacks.


Adam Grant argues that the following are possible:

  1. People can transform into givers, even if their current behavior leans differently.

  2. It's feasible to study the challenges that precipitate decline and take steps to circumvent them.


  • The book delves into these concepts in greater detail through the following chapters:Revealing the secrets of success (Why do successful givers thrive?)

  • Analyzing the obstacles and strategies to overcome them (Why do some givers encounter difficulties?)

  • Providing practical advice for personal transformation (Practical tips for self-improvement)


Why Successful Givers Succeed

What sets apart the behavior of givers that leads to their heightened success? Grant delves into four key characteristics of giver interactions that facilitate their success:

  1. Networking: Naturally, individuals who are generous build extensive networks of friends. They tend to assist more people, expanding their relationships and networks in breadth (connecting with more individuals) and depth (strengthening connections through their willingness to help others). Research demonstrates that those with extensive network connections perform better, advance in their careers more rapidly, and earn higher incomes. This is because, by establishing robust networks, givers gain access to valuable information, expertise, experience, and influence. When individuals "take" advantage of their colleagues online, it often results in severed connections, diminishing their network, and sometimes, the network itself may impose sanctions on the takers.

  2. Interestingly, the "balancers," who make up the majority of the population, penalize takers when they feel taken advantage of, while they reward givers as a gesture of gratitude for their assistance. Givers also cultivate two additional types of connections: weak connections due to their extensive friendships and the unique benefits associated with these connections, which are absent in other forms of relationships. Moreover, they maintain old connections with individuals from their past.

  3. Collaboration: Collaboration is recognized as a critical element of employee success. Research indicates that hiring "stars," highly successful individuals who work independently, doesn't yield the same benefits as fostering collaboration. Givers don't perceive interdependence as a weakness; instead, they view it as a tool to maximize collective abilities, and they willingly rely on others, often for the benefit of others rather than themselves. Another aspect of their collaborative approach is their willingness to undertake tasks that are in the team's best interest, even if it doesn't necessarily serve their own personal comfort or advantage. This fosters more successful teamwork, and their colleagues recognize and appreciate their contributions. In general, generous behavior within a group is valued despite the natural tendency for individuals to perceive their contributions as more significant and others' contributions as modest. Furthermore, the ability of givers to see things from others' perspectives, based on their extensive history of assisting others, further enhances team success and personal appreciation in collaborative efforts.

  4. Appreciation: Givers can identify potential in others, driven by the trust and optimism they extend. Their belief in others and the expectations they create motivate individuals to develop confidence and skills. The notion that everyone has untapped potential, waiting to be discovered and nurtured, aligns with the qualities of givers and encourages growth. While natural talent and hard work are essential for success, motivation also plays a significant role. Givers tend to invest more in individuals who demonstrate determination, further aiding their success. It's worth noting that studies indicate that takers, not givers, are prone to excessive investment and difficulty in letting go when their investments don't yield results, often due to ego-related reasons. Givers find it easier to acknowledge their errors in judgment and adapt their approach when necessary.

  5. Influence: Grant argues that givers exert more influence in their environments through non-coercive communication. They are more inclined to listen than speak and prefer consultation over making unilateral declarations. In daily life, this is evident in four spheres of influence: presentation, sales, persuasion, and negotiation. Givers' ability to present themselves as vulnerable, pose questions, or make requests rather than issuing statements is seen as an advantage, not a weakness. Asking for advice, a hallmark of this communication style, is an effective strategy for gaining influence, notably when one needs more authority.


Each of these abilities, and their synergy, empowers givers to attain more tremendous success.


Why Some Givers Face Challenges

First and foremost, it's crucial to acknowledge that giving is only sometimes the optimal strategy. When a short-term perspective or zero-sum conditions prevail (where one person's gain is another's loss, and vice versa), giving may not be the path to success. However, when Grant addresses the potential failures of givers, he refrains from making assumptions about individuals and doesn't specifically focus on the short-term view. This is because life comprises multiple systems, not just a single context.


The primary pitfalls associated with being a giver include:

  1. Burnout: Giving more can often lead to burnout, mainly due to one's energy resources depletion. Delving deeper into this issue reveals that burnout isn't solely a consequence of the extent of one's giving; instead, it's rooted in the absence of accompanying satisfaction. Giving continually without receiving any form of positive feedback, such as gratitude or a sense of accomplishment, can lead to exhaustion. The key here is to ensure that the activity is not one-sided. The fundamental principle that one who gives also receives is crucial. Hence, if someone is giving without experiencing any feedback or success, it's advisable to consider adjusting the nature of their giving or incorporating a different form of contribution that brings pleasure and meaning. Such activities can generate a sense of success, satisfaction, or at least gratitude, thus providing the necessary motivation and energy to persist in less rewarding environments. It's worth noting that not all givers are prone to burnout. Studies indicate that givers caring for others and themselves are less susceptible to burnout than takers and balancers. These individuals cultivate reservoirs of joy and meaning that are absent in the experiences of takers and balancers. While self-sacrificing givers who neglect their well-being quickly deplete these resources, those who prioritize self-care can replenish and enjoy them over time.

  2. Being Pushed Down: Grant expresses concern for those givers who find themselves at the bottom, or as he calls them, "doormats." This situation arises for several reasons, including:

    1. Devoting excessive time to helping others.

    2. Displaying innocence and unwavering trust in others renders them more susceptible to fraud and exploitation, especially by takers.

    3. Engaging in zero-sum behavior, where helping someone else is perceived as detrimental to oneself.


Grant believes many of these factors are relevant to individuals who give to others but fail to care for themselves. It's evident that investing excessive time in others comes at the expense of one's own time, and giving can be self-detrimental. It's also clear that givers who neglect their self-care are more vulnerable to fraud and exploitation by takers. Grant offers suggestions for givers who feel they are being pushed down:

  • Utilize their ability to assess the character of others when encountering a taker who may exploit or deceive them, exercise caution, and redirect their efforts toward individuals who can benefit from their assistance without causing harm.

  • Balance concern for their progress, such as salary negotiations, with consideration for those around them (e.g., family). Understanding that neglecting their interests results in losses for their loved ones can empower givers to advocate for themselves. This approach helps them avoid the perception of contradicting their image as givers and makes it easier for them to assert their needs.


These insights provide a comprehensive understanding of the potential challenges and solutions for givers in different situations.


Practical Tips for Personal Improvement

Many individuals who appear to strike a balance often do so primarily within the workplace. In their personal lives, they tend to exhibit giving behavior. It's only at work, where they fear being perceived as naive or weak that they adopt a different pattern of behavior. However, it's not limited to them; anyone can change their behavior. Several studies, as cited by Grant, demonstrate that people are capable of change, whether due to conformity with their peer group's overall behavior or due to a personal decision. As a starting point, individuals can assess their type at www.giveandtake.com.


Practical recommendations for initiating an honest change in behavior include:

  1. Reciprocity Cycle: Transforming organizational norms by implementing a process in which an entire group dedicates 20 minutes each week for several individuals to make requests, and the whole group collaboratively endeavors to fulfill these requests.

  2. Job Enrichment: Allowing subordinates to take on tasks related to their interests and abilities, either as part of their regular job description or as supplementary to their existing roles.

  3. Thank-you Letters: Facilitating the exchange of regular thanks and appreciation letters among employees to express gratitude for the assistance received. More details can be found at www.lovemachine.com.

  4. 5-Minute Assistance Habit: Embracing the habit of dedicating 5 minutes to help anyone who requests it, regardless of location. This concept, developed by Adam Rifkin, is extensively discussed in the book. Additional information can be found at www.meetup.com/106miles.

  5. Non-Coercive Communication: Offering personal training to develop the skill and comfort required for a communication style that emphasizes active listening over talking and seeking advice rather than self-promotion. Additional details can be found at www.thepowerofintroverts.com

  6. Joining a Community: Participating in an online community dedicated to giving away second-hand items and providing free services. Numerous examples of such communities can be found, like www.freecycle.org

  7. Personal Generosity Challenge: For those who prefer to act independently rather than in a group setting, there's the option to undertake the 30-day Generosity Challenge, offering a different daily recommendation on how to contribute. An example site is www.good.is/post/the-good-30-day-challenge-become-a-good-citizen

  8. Project Funding Assistance: Contributing financially to projects that people wish to promote. An example site is www.kickstarter.com

  9. Asking for Help: Encouraging others to become givers by requesting their assistance. Creating opportunities for support also allows for expressing giving and appreciation of this trait.


The world is evolving in favor of givers. The ongoing changes we witness, characterized by increased teamwork, a rise in service-oriented professions, and the prevalence of social media, all empower "givers" and offer them opportunities to excel and enhance their success. There are already numerous givers; it's worth considering joining their ranks.



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