Book Review: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Davinder Singh, business student at Southampton, gives his verdit on Grant's "Give and take: Why helping others drives our success".
Davinder Singh, business student at Southampton, gives his verdit on Grant’s “Give and take: Why helping others drives our success”.

If I keep doing good over the time, I will eventually be rewarded’, that is one of the core principles that have been highly influential in shaping my personality from a very young age. And my stance for this ideology has ever since persuaded me to believe that the acts of sharing, helping and collaborating with others would lead to personal and general satisfaction.


However, the image that the business world, the field which I have chosen to pursue my career in, has created for itself is highly divergent from these beliefs. Most commonly, businesses are perceived as commercial activities, where everyone, strategically, puts their self-interests ahead of others’ needs. In fact, when we glance up at the horizon of successful people, we notice intimidating and self-centred individuals delivering powerful speeches on their achievements and ambitious attributes. But, when it comes to completing successfully a business degree or demonstrating certain skills during a job interview, lots of emphasis is placed on altruist behaviour.


Therefore, when I was presented with the opportunity of reading and reviewing a new business book, I chose to set apart from the conventional autobiographies of the modern business leaders and explore a realistic and in-depth researched overview of the factors that are retained vital in determining the prosperity of individuals in business activities. After browsing intensively through various business related books, I set my sights on ‘Give and Take: why helping others drives our success’ by Adam Grant (2014) , which, in fact, seemed to satisfy most of the expectations I had from my new book, and helped me to investigate contemplating concepts such as personality, success, failure, and more precisely individualism and selflessness.


Adam Grant (2014) does strongly believe that success depends heavily on how we interact with other people, and the winners are those who contribute value without worrying about what they receive in return. He summarizes that the reciprocity spectrum at work has two opposite ends: there are takers, who like to get more than they receive and put their interests ahead of others’ needs, and then there are givers, who are other-focused and prefer to give more than they receive. Between these two, another style can be retrieved, the matchers, who expect reciprocity and operate on the principle of fairness.


The book can be divided in two parts. The first section analyses the behaviours of successful givers and their unique approach to networking, collaborating, evaluating and influencing others. Whereas, the second part of the book shifts focus to how giving can result in being a disadvantage for the givers.


One of the most interesting elements of the book is the fact that the author makes his stand very clear from the very first chapter. This feature makes the reading more relaxing and allows the reader to reflect on their own behaviour and compare their approach to some real-life situations with the cases presented across the various chapters.


Although I was expecting that learning which reciprocity style is the most effective in the success ladder to be the most surprising and unexpected revelation of the book, the goals of the author, however, are to unveil what characteristics differentiate the givers, takers and matchers from each other.

By putting forward evidence gathered from the analysis of a wide range of organisational contexts, Grant (2014) clarifies that givers are both at the top and the bottom of the success ladder, and therefore, aims to divulge further the uniqueness of successful givers and what differentiates them from the ones at the bottom of the success ladder.


The author (Grant, 2014) presents numerous path-breaking case studies gathered from his research on the reciprocity style of entrepreneurs, lawyers, television creatives and sport executives. The example that I retained as the most impactful in shaping my point of view on the subject was on the ability of a giver to compel his employer to resign from his position in order to protect his colleagues’ interests as the selfish actions of the director had started to have a negative impact on the company’s performance. I think it was an excellent example to support the proposition that although givers are other-focused, they are still as ambitious and motivated as any other businessmen, and therefore they also need to ‘give’ strategically. This made me realize that, as positive as the ‘giving’ style might sound, when it comes to business, it still needs to be done in an intelligent manner.


I do strongly agree with the general argument on the reciprocity styles presented by the author, however, there is one point that I would still disapprove of. Grant claims that the distinctions between givers, takers and matchers are purely based within the working environment. However, many of the examples that Grant has proposed in the book (2014), do strongly suggest that there is a certain degree of correlation between the personal characteristics of an individual and their reciprocity style. For instance, a case study in the book describes a giver teacher as a person who has always been attentive to other’s needs, which I personally believe has, in some manner, advanced her giving style. Although Grant (2014) mentions that certain activities such as volunteering can expand the ‘giving’ style, I am still of the opinion that reciprocity attributes are behavioural styles that shape our personality from a very early stage and not techniques that can be learnt over the time. Therefore, I think that the author could have been more precise in specifying how the reciprocity styles differentiate from the overall behavioural characteristics of an individual.


In conclusion, highly praised by big enterprises such as Financial Times, Estée Lauder, NASA, Puma and Nike, what I understood immediately was that ‘Give and Take’ is not the typical business book with useful and encouraging tips to succeed and become an energetic leader. Instead, Grant has a unique and indirect approach to motivation, which will surely transform the analytic minds of the readers who, including myself, tend to believe that only hard-work, talent and luck are the driving forces to success in business. In fact, the author has the incredible ability to showcase some unconventional practices that can help the readers to become better leaders, managers and negotiators. Overall, Grant’s explicit standpoint through his honest and simple writing style has surely compelled me to revise my stance on the most effective personalities in the business world and the reciprocity style that makes success even more powerful.

The views in this article are those of the author. This article is part of the ‘Making Our Work Real’ series. 


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