Summary of Give and Take by Adam Grant

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  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023
Give and Take by Adam Grant book cover

Summary: 10 min

Book reading time: 6h05

Score: 2/10

Book published in: 2013

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  • Givers are more successful than others because the fact that they give more means that they also receive more from other people.

Table of Contents

What Give and Take Talks About

Give and Take is a book written by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant. It explains how highly helpful people often end up being more successful than people that mainly take from others. The author studied several highly successful people and drew his theories from what they and their “network” told him.

This book has a bunch of massive problems.

First, it’s unscientific.

The author speaks about “givers”, “matchers”, and “takers” without ever defining the terms. Worse, he mixes them up. In some situations, the “giver”-thing to do is to ask for help. In others, it is to give help.

The second problem is the cultural setting. Give and Take talks about relationships, reciprocity, and trust, but those are far different in the Western world where you can reasonably trust people than in most other countries where you absolutely can’t.

The third problem is still cultural: individual cultures where people live alone and mind their own business fare much better economically (US, Denmark, Netherlands) than more…socialistic and family-based cultures where people spend time helping each other (Eg: Pakistan),

The richest people in the world (Bezos, Buffett, etc) and the absolute best athletes or artists, are also takers (big time). They take so much that the people working for them often end up in poverty, having given all that they could so that their employer achieves success.

The fourth problem is the survivorship bias. Grant happened to study successful givers. Quid of the unsuccessful givers? There is absence of evidence.

This leads to another major issue that Grant ignores:

  • What if the givers were givers because they were successful instead of the other way around?

It’s not unreasonable to think that people who constantly will become takers, while successful people can afford to give.

Grant also always takes the same type of people for his examples: Harvard-educated, at the right place at the right time, smart, and “incredibly hardworking”.

Most people aren’t like that, and most people cannot be like that.

Grant would like everyone to become the exception without realizing that it’s not possible.

To conclude, this book was an abominable manuscript that took me three weeks to finish. I just couldn’t focus on reading due to how bland and stupid it was.

This isn’t surprising given the fact that the book had three pages of praise by other academics.

Don’t buy it, don’t read it.

Just read this summary.

Summary of Give and Take Written by Adam Grant

Chapter 1: Good Returns: The Dangers and Rewards of Giving More Than You Get

Success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people.

Every time you meet someone, you have two choices:

  1. You can take as much as you can from them.
  2. Or you can help them without worrying about getting something in exchange.

There are three types of people when it comes to reciprocity.

  • Takers: self-focused, they take more than they give. They think that the world is competitive and that to succeed, they need to be better than others.
  • Givers: others-focused, they give more than they get. They focus on other people’s interests.
  • Matchers: they give as much as they take and take as much as they give.

In the workplace, givers are rare. In real life, givers are plenty.

Givers make up the least and most successful people. Takers and matchers end up in the middle.

When takers win, people envy them.

When givers win, people root for them.

In the workplace, a lot of givers become takers because they’re afraid to be exploited by takers.

By encouraging us to expect the worst in others it brings out the worst in us.

Chapter 2: The Peacock and the Panda: How Givers, Takers, and Matchers Build Networks

Networking helps you get:

  • Private information
  • Diverse skills
  • Power

Extensive research demonstrates that people with rich networks achieve higher performance ratings, get promoted faster, and earn more money.

Takers see networking as a way to ask people stuff for their own benefit.

Givers see it as a way to connect with people and ideas.

Spotting Takers

  • Takers are controlling with subordinates, submissive with superiors.
  • Takers want to be admired, so they charm a lot.
  • Takers don’t care how people below them perceive them.
  • They feel entitled to pursue self-serving goals and claim as much value as they can.
  • Takers are all about themselves. They use “I” a lot.
  • As CEO, they pay themselves much more than the average worker.
  • Takers post self-promoting, self-absorbed, and self-important information on social media.
  • Takers have more FB friends.

Most people punish obvious takers out of ” fairness”.

You cannot create networks just to take something: getting things comes as a result of a genuine desire to help.

Givers don’t count what they give their network: they just give, unlike matchers and takers that give strategically -> receivers then feel manipulated and obliged to give back, which they don’t like.

Matchers have smaller networks because they only give when they know they’ll get something back. As a result, they don’t jump at every chance to give.

Givers get a lot in return because they have lots of weak ties, and weak ties help more in life than strong ties.

Dormant ties are people you used to know well but haven’t talked to in three years or so. Reactivating them usually gives you a lot of value. Matchers and takers are hesitant to reactivate them. Takers don’t want to be punished, and matchers don’t want to have to do something in exchange for asking a favor.

Chapter 3: The Ripple Effect: Collaboration and the Dynamics of Giving and Taking Credit

Creative people score higher in dominance, hostility, and psychopathic deviance and are more takers than givers.

Yet they cannot do anything alone. Cardiac surgeons, analysts, or architects need teams of people that assist them to really shine in their jobs.

People who give their time and knowledge regularly to help their colleagues end up earning more and get promotions in a wide range of settings.

When you give it away, you gain more in response.

By putting the group’s interest ahead of their own, givers earn the respect of the group.

Make sure also to share valuable knowledge with your colleagues, so they can do the same with you.

Make sure to give credit to other people, or they will hold it against you your entire life.

In general, people overestimate how much they contribute, though. This is the responsibility bias.

The experience gap is a bias that explains that we underestimate how much a state or emotion will affect us if we’re not feeling it.

To please people, you need to put yourself in their shoes and give them what they want, not what you think they want.

Chapter 4: Finding the Diamond in the Rough: The Fact and Fiction of Recognizing Potential

Teachers that believe a student is “better” will behave with that student in such a way that the student will indeed become better -> self-fulfilling prophecies.

If you want your employees to succeed, you actually need to believe that they can.

You also need to make sure they’re motivated to achieve. You do so by making the task at hand fun to achieve.

Some people (managers, teachers) keep on investing all of their energy into losers that will never succeed.


Sunk cost fallacy. This bias states that we take into account all of the efforts we have already invested into something when making a decision to keep on investing or not.

But we shouldn’t, as previous investment is often a useless metric.

There are however three other reasons that compel people to keep on investing when they shouldn’t.

  1. Anticipated regret: people fear they could regret giving up.
  2. Project completion: they think they will finish if they keep investing.
  3. Ego threat: they’re scared of looking like idiots if they drop it.

Takers are more likely to keep on investing due to ego threat, while givers aren’t.

Givers work harder and longer because they do it for the team. There is a connection between grit and giving.

Chapter 5: The Power of Powerless Communication: How to Be Modest and Influence People

Takers are attracted to, and excel in, gaining dominance. In an effort to claim as much value as possible, they strive to be superior to others.

They speak loudly, confidently, forcefully, and sell with conviction and pride.

They display strength and power by taking as much space as possible.

The more they try to dominate the audience, the more the audience resists.

Dominance is a zero-sum game. The more I have of it, the less you do.

The opposite of this powerful communication style is powerless communication.

These people express doubt and rely on advice from others.

As it turns out, projecting confidence and assertiveness does not always work in communication.

It’s better to be honest, transparent, and vulnerable as long as this is backed up by competence. People don’t like incompetent people.

Clumsiness reinforces the prestige of the competent, but destroys the reputation of the incompetent.

When we hear a powerful persuasive message, we get suspicious. In some cases, we’re concerned about being tricked, duped, or manipulated by a taker.

This is why asking questions is much better. “Will you go vote” will compel people to go vote.

The art of advocacy is to lead you to my conclusion on your terms.

When you try to persuade people directly, they know they’re being persuaded and they don’t like that.

When you ask questions, you encourage people to do what you want them to do…but only if they have the desire to do it already.

“Don’t you want to buy a new computer”? This question will work only if the person actually wants to buy a new computer.

Chapter 6: The Art of Motivation Maintenance: Why Some Givers Burn Out But Others Are On Fire

There are two types of givers: those at the top, and those at the bottom.

The givers at the top score high in self-interest and others-interest. That enables them to establish boundaries to not get abused.

The givers at the bottom score high in others-interest, and low in self-interest. These givers often become depressed because all they care about is the results of others. And when others don’t get any, they wonder if their work is actually useful.

Self-interested givers though, are happy to do what they do for the sake of doing it, which makes them less likely to be depressed if others don’t reach the results they’re looking for.

As a result, others-interested givers should look for work where they can have an impact.

And self-interested givers should look where they would be happy to give.

Overall, giving money to charity makes people happy which in turn makes them more productive which in turn enables them to earn more money.

Chapter 7: Chump Change: Overcoming the Doormat Effect

The only way to give while not burning out is to trust most people most of the time, and make sure not to talk to takers.

Givers, when being taken advantage of because they’re too timid to fight back in negotiation, should think about what the negotiation will bring for others in their own team. This motivates them to fight back.

The gender salary gap isn’t a gender salary gap.

More than half of the men—57 percent—tried to negotiate their starting salaries, compared with only 7 percent of the women.

Chapter 8: The Scrooge Shift: Why a Soccer Team, a Fingerprint, and a Name Can Tilt Us in the Other Direction

Another way givers can make sure not to get exploited is to encourage the people they give to to give to other people – that is, encourage others to become givers themselves.

Why do people give?

They give both for selfish reasons – it makes them feel good about themselves – and for altruistic reasons (pleasing somebody else).

People are also more likely to give to people they share a common identity with, such as: fandom of a certain sports team, nationality, religion, name, etc.

As a result, there are more dentists called Dennis than Walter. And Georgia(s) are more likely to move to Georgia than other people.

Furthermore, people will experience a stronger bond with people they share commonalities with, especially when this commonality is rare.

Another way to get people to do the right thing is to show them “the norm”. If they “take” more than the average, they will be compelled to take less.

A great way for everyone to “have more” is to run Reciprocity Rings, where each person pulls a request and asks if someone can help them, and everyone ends up helping everyone.

In general, we underestimate the number of people that are willing to give or help us because we take into account the cost for them to say yes instead of the cost to say no.

But the truth is that most people are happy to give.

You can transform takers into givers by making the records public.

But if you make them take a pledge, they will actually give less than they would have otherwise because “they are generous, so they didn’t need to give this time”.

People need to make the repetitive and conscious choice to give to others.

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