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Summary: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

According to Give and Take – Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, there are three reciprocating styles you can adopt when interacting with other people:

  • Taker (give only when you expect to receive more in return)
  • Matcher (give only as much as you expect to receive)
  • Giver (give more than you expect to receive)


Underestimating Adam Grant’s book would be an easy mistake. A superficial summary would sound like a set of homilies: It is better to give than to receive, be nice to other people, and so on. However, you should look past that first impression because Grant’s examples and research provide empirical support for his argument that – properly understood – giving offers a superior way to do business. We recommend this good-hearted look beyond the Golden Rule to managers, leaders, and those interested in ethics and in making the world a better place.

Book Summary: Give and Take - Why Helping Others Drives Our Success


  • When you interact with others, you choose how to treat them.
  • You can be a “taker,” a “giver” or a “matcher,” who matches others’ giving or taking.
  • Takers and matchers end up in the middle of the income ladder, while givers hold the top and bottom ranks.
  • When networking, takers seek advantage, matchers seek fair exchanges and givers freely help others.
  • Givers foster creativity and excellence in those around them.
  • If you think only of others, you will burn out. Pursue your own interests and parse out your time and energy judiciously.
  • Takers fall prey to “responsibility bias”: a common fallacy in which people overestimate their contributions to a collective endeavor.
  • Givers use “powerless communication” to earn influence without dominance. Its techniques include “hedging,” being tentative and asking questions.
  • To make members of a community more inclined to give, establish the proper norms.
  • You will benefit by adding more giving to your life, your workplace and your community.

What’s the big deal?

“The vast majority of people develop a primary reciprocity style, which captures how they approach most of the people most of the time. And this primary style can play as much of a role in our success as hard work, talent, and luck.” – Adam Grant

What can I do about it?

According to a study of 160 Engineers: “the engineers with the lowest productivity are mostly givers. But when we look at the engineers with the highest productivity, the evidence shows that they’re givers too. The California engineers with the best objective scores for quantity and quality of results are those who consistently give more to their colleagues than they get. The worst performers and the best performers are givers; takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle.” – Adam Grant

Study after study reveals that Givers finish on top because Givers have stronger networks (people trust and are eager help them), and they inspire highly collaborative teams (team’s success = individual success).

  • To increase your odds of long-term career success, you must approach most personal interactions with a Givers mindset: be willing to give more than you expect to receive.

However, you’ll fall to the bottom of the success ladder if you fail to never say ‘no’. Givers who never say ‘no’ are taken advantage of and eventually burnout. Therefore, a successful Giver routinely asks himself/herself three core questions before giving freely.


“When I studied firefighters and fundraising callers, I found the same pattern: they were able to work much harder and longer when they gave their energy and time due to a sense of enjoyment and purpose, rather than duty and obligation.” – Adam Grant

According to a 2010 study in the journal of Personality and Social Psychology called ‘When helping helps,’ giving just for the sake of giving, or giving because you feel obligated to, will drain your energy over time. Limit your giving when you feel forced to give.

Give freely if your giving impacts something greater then yourself, contributes to a cause that you believe in, or benefits someone you care for.

Find your reason for giving before giving to avoid burning out.


Set dedicated times to give to yourself and others. Block out time to make progress on your most important project(s), ad say not to all external requests.

Give freely outside of your personal time blocks, and do so in batches. A study at the University of California revealed that those who perform five acts of kindness in quick succession (batched fashion) were happier and more energized than those who spaced out their five acts of kindness during the day.

Strike an equilibrium between giving to yourself and giving to others to prevent becoming a doormat and burning out. At the beginning of each day, know ‘when’ you’ll give to yourself and when you’ll freely give to others.

For Whom?

If you give to a Taker, what you give will only benefit the Taker (it goes into a black hole of greed). If you give to a Matcher or Giver your giving will be paid forward and hae a ripple effect that benefits the greater good.

“A rising tide lifts all the boats.” – JFK

How yo spot a Taker:

  1. They use ‘I’ and ‘me’ much more then ‘we’ and ‘us’ in a team setting.
  2. They have vain profile photos on social media.
  3. They disrespect people with less power and they kiss up to people with more power.

When you spot a Taker be a generous Matcher: Give but keep score. If they fail to pre-pay or pay forward 1/3 of your initial favors, stop giving them.


What Kind of Person Will You Be?

Every time you interact with someone else, you choose what sort of person you will be. Will you be a “taker,” looking out for yourself and letting others fend for themselves? Will you be a “giver” and do what’s best for others? Or will you shift according to the situation, becoming a “matcher” who treats others as they treat you? To complicate this decision, you might want to know which of these three styles is likeliest “to end up at the bottom of the success ladder.” It’s the givers. Engineers who give more help than they get score lowest on job performance, and the most giving first-year medical students have the lowest grades. But givers also occupy the highest ranks of the ladder. The middle is full of takers and matchers; givers fill the top and bottom.

“By shifting ever so slightly in the giver direction, we might find our waking hours marked by greater success, richer meaning and more lasting impact.”

Giving aligns with the core values of many religions and cultures, and its importance grows as the economy changes. Think back a few generations to when people worked more or less independently, whether producing goods or growing crops. Today, people collaborate, often in teams. With teams, giving works better than taking. Giving is also more fruitful in service businesses, a sector that is steadily expanding.

Giving, Taking and “Matching” in Networks

“Givers, takers and matchers develop fundamentally distinct networks.” Takers often network actively. Like disgraced former Enron CEO Ken Lay, they can be “charming.” However, takers reserve their charm for more popular or powerful people. As takers ascend in their organizations, they openly “pursue self-serving goals,” and treat their peers and subordinates badly. They contrive to loom larger than others by sharing only that information which makes them look good. This causes their networks to decay over time. People lose patience with constant takers.

“Do we try to claim as much value as we can or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

Matchers try to match their behavior with the actions of the people around them. They initially treat takers well, but after takers inevitably betray them, matchers mete out punishment. Matchers build networks based on reciprocity and fairness. Reciprocity is great, but deploying it as the normal balance within your network has drawbacks. If you give to someone who operates solely on reciprocity, that person will expect the gift to come attached to a request. Matchers focus on the immediate benefit in all transactions.

Adam Rifkin: A Giver

Givers use networking to go beyond fairness. In 2011, Fortune magazine looked for “the best networker in the United States.” Its research identified Adam Rifkin, who co-founded Renkoo, which develops apps for social networking sites. Rifkin is a classic giver. For instance, in 1994, he built a website for the then-emerging band Green Day because he liked the musicians and their music. Rifkin believes that what goes around comes around. He arranges meetings within his network to link people together, helping start-ups meet investors and job seekers find jobs. In smaller interactions, he follows “the five-minute favor” rule. If someone asks for a favor and if accomplishing it will take five minutes or less, you should do it. As a result, Rifkin enjoys a vast network of “weak ties” (acquaintances) and “dormant” ties (back-burner relationships). Like other givers, his network contains a more extensive, varied group than the networks of takers or matchers, and the people he reaches are predisposed to helping him.

Frank Lloyd Wright: A Taker

Givers and takers have a radically different impact on those they encounter. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was a classic taker. He succeeded as an architect when he lived in Chicago, where he interacted with other creative people. Convinced that he built his success alone, he created Taliesin, his Wisconsin summer home and studio, to set up the isolation he craved. That isolation stymied his creativity. When Wright started working with apprentices, “his productivity soared.” Even then, he failed to appreciate what others gave him. Wright “refused to pay apprentices” and forced them to cook and clean.

Jonas Salk: A Taker

Jonas Salk, pioneer of the vaccine against polio, showed similar taker tendencies. In 1955, when Salk spoke about his discovery, he “didn’t acknowledge” the work done by his colleagues, even though their contributions fueled his breakthroughs. Salk didn’t thank the lab personnel who helped create the vaccine, reducing his team to tears. He fell prey to the “responsibility bias,” a common fallacy in which people overestimate their own contributions to a collective endeavor.

George Meyer: A Giver

Contrast this with the impact George Meyer has had on those around him. He wrote for Saturday Night Live for years. The show’s production process has “a Darwinian element” in that the writers compete to get their sketches on air. To win airtime, many writers focused on writing for big-name guest hosts. Meyer often wrote for lesser-known hosts and took time to give other writers feedback.

“The fear of being judged as weak or naïve prevents many people from operating like givers at work.”

He followed a similar pattern in his years of writing for The Simpsons. Often, staff writers wanted “to write the first draft of an episode,” so they would receive credit for that show. In contrast, Meyer came up with ideas and then let others write the first draft, which he’d revise to make the show stronger. Meyer engaged in what the National Outdoor Leadership School calls “expedition behavior”: He worked behind the scenes, doing what was necessary without worrying about getting credit. Meyer helped create a safe environment for other writers to take creative risks.

Giving Through Teaching

Teaching demonstrates the real power of giving. Great musicians or athletes don’t necessarily show the best potential or the highest intelligence early in their lives. Many bloom after they receive mentoring from a giving teacher who motivates them. Giving managers also see the possibilities in their people. When givers hire, they can make mistakes as readily as takers. They can choose the wrong prospects and be fooled by appearances. Takers tend to cling to their choices because admitting a bad decision reflects poorly on them. Givers value the people they chose, but move them to other positions or let them go if that’s what’s best for the company.

How Givers and Takers Communicate

You can influence others by “dominance” or by “prestige.” When you “establish dominance,” people see you as authoritative and powerful. If you “earn prestige,” you gain influence because people “respect and admire” you. These two options spring from your style of reciprocity. Takers choose dominance and seek “powerful communication.” They assert themselves and emphasize pride and accomplishments. However, “dominance is a zero-sum game”: If you dominate your co-workers, you gain influence, and they lose it.

“Success involves more than just capitalizing on the strengths of giving; it also requires avoiding the pitfalls.”

“Powerless communication” establishes lasting influence. Show that you are vulnerable, either intentionally, by sharing, or inadvertently, as would happen if you stuttered. Listening to others, asking questions and showing genuine curiosity about their interests are all aspects of powerless communication. This offers an alternative way to gain influence: people don’t feel as if you’re forcing them to do something. Instead, they feel as if they’re choosing to act a certain way. Asking for advice or “hedging” – being tentative – are facets of this style. Rather than asserting that one choice is the only way, pose a suggestion as a query: “Do you think it might be possible to do it this way?” Such phrasing helps people open up to your ideas without feeling threatened.

Give and Survive

Knowing how to build on “the strengths of giving,” won’t necessarily ensure success. You can end up exhausted with little to show for all you’ve done. Without spreading yourself too thin, be a giver but don’t let takers take advantage of you. You want to be “other-interested” and see others prosper, but not to your own detriment. You must be somewhat self-interested. Successful givers act based on concern for others balanced with fulfilling their own interests. Some people become “selfless givers,” so other-centered that they suffer “low self-interest.” They give without caring about themselves and can end up mired in “pathological altruism.” Under the influence of these two independent “engines,” givers are in danger of imbalances. When they put others’ interests ahead of their own, they might burn out.

“Otherish givers build a support network that they can access for help when they need it.”

Exhausted givers suffer physical and emotional health problems. To revitalize, they don’t need a break – they need more giving in the right context. Those, like teachers, who give when their results might not be visible for years often find that giving becomes harder over time. These givers need to increase their “perception of impact.” When they realize how much their actions matter, they’ll revive. Givers should personalize their actions by linking their ways of giving, however intangible, to specific beneficiaries. Radiologists’ diagnoses based on CT scans improved when photos of the patients accompanied the scans. Nurses did a better job assembling surgical kits when they met the doctors who would be using them.


People can also revitalize their motivation to give by volunteering. Doing enough volunteer work to change your mood takes time, so “chunk” your actions to do several giving things at once. The threshold for volunteering seems to be 100 hours a year, or two hours a week. If you give more, you don’t feel more of a return. If you give less, you don’t see as much of a result.

“Otherish givers may appear less altruistic than selfless givers, but their resilience against burnout enables them to contribute more.”

People can take advantage of givers who are too trusting, which can translate to lower salaries and fewer promotions. Even the most dedicated givers must protect themselves still seeing the good in others. Givers are often initially weak in negotiations, while takers are strong, but givers can re-educate themselves. By negotiating on behalf of other people (like their families), by casting their negotiation platforms in terms of fairness or by discussing what will benefit the company they represent, givers can move past their fear of becoming takers.

“Although we often stereotype givers as chumps and doormats, they turn out to be surprisingly successful.”

When asked to mentor, givers usually comply and put in generous time. They must discipline themselves, discern takers who impose on them and protect their personal priorities. Givers can switch to matching, that is, arranging things so that takers, too, must give to get what they want.

Craigslist and Freecycle

Craig Newmark started Craigslist in the mid-1990s because the list of people he was emailing about area events got too big to manage. Craigslist, which offers person-to-person sales and services, appeals to people’s “basic matcher instincts” since they can meet online and agree on fair prices. This is useful, but it’s not the only way for people to interact within an online community. Freecycle demonstrates how a community can reshape normative values about giving. On this site, people give things away to anyone who wants them, and people can ask for what they need. Users turn to Freecycle for both selfish and altruistic reasons. Since the exchange of items involves the whole community, Freecycle establishes a new kind of balance, a new norm of giving. It encourages “matchers and takers to act like givers.”

Resources for Making Your Life More Giving

You can bring more giving into your life. To test “your giver quotient,” take a survey at the GiveAndTake website. Start a Reciprocity Ring at HumaxNetworks, where people ask favors of those online and help others obtain what they want. “By making contributions visible, the Reciprocity Ring sets up an opportunity for people of any reciprocity style to be “otherish.” That is, they can both “do good and look good.”

“Givers reject the notion that interdependence is weak.”

Take steps to make your job and your workplace more reflective of the values that matter to you and your colleagues. This might include pursuing personal projects, linking existing work to your values or shifting the skills your work emphasizes. For information, visit the JobCrafting website.

To express your appreciation of people at work, make expressions of gratitude routine and methodical.

Start small by using the “Five-Minute Favor” (

Invite anyone in your organization to ask a favor, so long as fulfilling it takes five minutes or less. From there, build up to daily acts of kindness, underwrite someone’s dream project, ask for help and or join a “community of givers.”

About the author

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, where he has been the top-rated professor for seven straight years. He is an expert in how we can find motivation and meaning, and lead more generous and creative lives. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of five books that have sold over 2 million copies and been translated into 35 languages: Give and Take, Originals, Option B, Power Moves, and with his wife, Allison Sweet Grant, The Gift Inside the Box. His books have been recognized as among the year’s best by Amazon, the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal and been praised by J.J. Abrams, Richard Branson, Bill and Melinda Gates, Malcolm Gladwell, and Malala Yousafzai.

Adam’s TED talks have been viewed more than 20 million times. He hosts the chart-topping TED podcast WorkLife. His speaking and consulting clients include Google, the NBA, Bridgewater, and the Gates Foundation. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers, Fortune’s 40 under 40, Oprah’s Super Soul 100, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and received distinguished scientific achievement awards from the American Psychological Association and the National Science Foundation. Adam writes for the New York Times on work and psychology and serves on the Department of Defense Innovation Board. He received his B.A. from Harvard and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and he is a former Junior Olympic springboard diver. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, their two daughters, and their son.

The Wharton School’s highest-rated professor, Adam Grant is the youngest tenured faculty member. He’s a former advertising director and a junior Olympian.


Business, Psychology, Self Help, Leadership, Personal Development, Management, Productivity, Relationships, Interpersonal Relations, Workplace Culture

Table of Contents

  • Good returns: the dangers and rewards of giving more than you get
  • The peacock and the panda: how givers, takers and matchers build networks
  • The ripple effect: cascading collaboration and the dynamics of giving and taking credit
  • Finding the diamond in the rough: the fact and fiction of recognizing potential
  • The power of powerless communication: how to be modest and influence people
  • The art of motivation maintenance: why some givers burn out but others are on fire
  • Chump change: overcoming the doormat effect
  • The scrooge shift: why a soccer team, a fingerprint and a name can tilt us in the other direction
  • Out of the shadows.


Stay tuned for book review…

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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