Give and Take

Back in March, I read an article in the NY Times about Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of Business who had recently written a book called Give and Take.

The article was mainly about how Adam Grant’s exceptional helpfulness and generosity led to his professional success (i.e., people ask him for help constantly, and he almost always gives it).  Reading the article got me interested in reading his book, which is about his research on the same subject.

As I clearly state on the “About” page of my blog, the one material thing I am hoping to get out of writing this blog is free books.  Since the article portrayed Adam Grant as a super-giving guy, I decided to write to him to ask for a copy of his book, as a test to see if he was really as generous as the article made him out to be.  This was shortly before the book came out in print.  I heard back from him and his publicist almost immediately, offering me a free copy of the digital proof of the book.  On one hand I was delighted, because I hadn’t expected to hear back from him at all, but on the other hand I was disappointed, because I spend too much time reading off my computer screen as it is and did not want to read the ebook.  I thanked him, but did not accept his offer, explaining that I preferred to wait until I could get my hands on a paper copy.

Although I didn’t get the free book I wanted, I appreciated his offer of a digital copy so much that I went out and bought a full-priced hardcover copy when it came out.  Normally, for a book like this, I would just wait until I could get it free from the library, so his willingness to give paid off for him in the end.

Basically, this idea that giving pays off is the premise of his whole book.  He differentiates between three types of people: givers, takers, and matchers.  Givers help other people without expecting anything in return.  Takers always try to get more than they give.  Matchers strive to give and get in equal measure.  They give when they expect to get something of equal value back, meaning that they only give to people who they think can help them in return.

According to Adam Grant, most people are matchers.  Takers can be very successful, but their success is often short-lived because people eventually figure out that they are jerks and stop helping them.  The most successful people (in the business world) are givers.  However, the least successful people are also givers.

The difference between successful givers and unsuccessful givers is basically how much of a pushover the giver is.  Successful givers give strategically, in part by focusing their efforts on helping fellow givers and matchers.  They also look for ways to inspire others to give.

I enjoyed this book.  Not only is it fairly easy and entertaining to read, but I also tend to like anything that provides research-based support for the benefits of kindness and generosity.  Sometimes it seems like the bad guys always win, but according to this book, that’s not true.  Being nice can be socially, emotionally, and financially rewarding.

I also loved the idea that giving promotes more giving.  One person’s giving behavior can set off a chain reaction of giving, in a pay-it-forward type fashion, so any generous or helpful thing you do can multiply into a tidal wave of generosity and helpfulness.  I think this is awesome!

The problem was that after I finished reading the book, I wasn’t sure which reciprocity category I fit into.  I’m sure I’m not a taker, but not at all clear about whether I’m a giver or matcher.  As Adam Grant points out, this may be because people use different reciprocity styles in different situations.  Still though, I had my doubts, so I went to Adam Grant’s website (, where you can take a survey to assess your “giver quotient.”

Unfortunately, the experience was completely dissatisfying.  The questions in the self-assessment were so transparent and simplistic that I couldn’t possibly answer them in an unbiased manner.  It was just too obvious which the “right” answer was, and for many of the questions, none of the answers accurately described what I would do in the given situation.

Since the self-assessment didn’t work out as I’d hoped, I elected to ask other people to assess my giving style.  The website sent a survey to my mother, father, and husband to complete on my behalf.  My mom tried to do it, but gave up because she also felt the questions were overly simplistic, transparent, and not reflective of what I would actually do (I had not warned her in advance that this was my experience of the survey).  I then told my husband and father not to bother filling it out.

I think part of the problem was that the questions were designed for people who work in business, which I do not.  This made some of the questions seem totally irrelevant to my life experience.  However, my mother identified a more significant problem with the survey.  She pointed out that the survey assumes people do what they do because they are looking to attain a certain end-result, either for themselves or others.  This behaviorist perspective ignores whether a person is inherently interested in an activity, focusing instead on the extrinsic rewards that are associated with an activity.  This is a rather limited and old-fashioned way of thinking about human motivation, in my opinion.

So for example, I was thinking about why I made all my cello-related YouTube videos and why I write these blog posts.  Do I do it for the sake of helping others?  Do I do it for myself?  Do I expect to get something in return?  Uh…I don’t know, none of the above….  Really I just do it because I find it interesting.  It’s fun for me and helps me clarify my thoughts.  I like the idea that other might benefit from my videos, and I find it satisfying to get messages from people saying that my videos have helped them, but I wouldn’t make the videos if I didn’t like making them.  So I guess I don’t qualify as a giver.  (Bummer!)

Okay, this post is too long already, but I wanted to mention one other idea from the book that I’ve taken to heart.  As a starting point for becoming more giving, Adam Grant suggests a policy of always doing favors that will take five minutes or less.  If someone asks you to do something that will only take five minutes, you might as well do it.  This seems very reasonable to me.  So for example, when random people write to me with cello-related questions, I have often ignored them in the past; but lately, I’ve been writing back, so long as I can do it in five minutes or less.  It’s fairly satisfying.  If you’re interested in becoming more giving, you might give the five-minute favor method a try as well.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for reading and happy learning!


2 thoughts on “Give and Take

  1. Just wanted to thank you for “giving me” your you tube videos on the cello. I am a 56 year adult learner of the cello and you break things down so nicely.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *