April 9, 2020

Givers and takers – what we can learn from Adam Grant about giving, taking and matching

Adam Grant is amazing. I listen to his podcast and read all of his books and I am completely enthralled by all of the content and writing that he produces. Whether it’s Originals and his story about passing up on Warby Parker in the very early stages or his TED talks, he speaks with such passion and enthusiasm.

I remember once he was talking about going to Google and they asked him as part of the discussions what he would recommend Google do differently based on what he has studied as an organizational psychologist. His reply was quite interesting: he said that rather than hire individuals, he recommended that Google hire (and fire) teams. It makes a lot of sense, we praise and respect the individual but in many cases, it’s more about the team of people with the individual. If the project fails, it rarely falls on one individual but rather a team of individuals that have failed. And when the project succeeds, again, it is the team of individuals that have succeeded.

I then had the privilege of listening to an audiobook version of Givers and Takers and the ideas inside really surprised me. Here are the things I learned from Adam Grant:

There are givers, takers and matchers

Givers, takers and matchers – they are three different groups of individuals that everyone can split into. Takers are focused on what they can get out of a situation or another person. Matchers try to balance what they get with what they give. If others around them are giving, matchers also try to give back (and the same if they are around takers). Givers are focused on others and try to give to others with no strings attached.

Givers, takers and matchers all fall along a performance curve

It turns out that givers are at the bottom of the performance curve. Takers and matchers are in the middle. Who is at the top? The counterintuitive answer is givers (though it turns out it’s a different kind of giver).

There are two types of givers: selfless and otherish

Selfless givers are those that drop everything, to the detriment of their health, time and energy, to help others. Selfless givers tend to fall at the bottom of the performance curve due to their selfless nature.

Then there are otherish givers who focus on giving to others, but focus in a more strategic manner. They know that there are takers and matchers who can take advantage of them and so they do not focus on selfless giving.

Can you guess which of these two types of givers are at the top and bottom of the curve? That’s right, the selfless givers are at the bottom of the curve (they tend to drop their own work to help others) whereas otherish givers are strategic about giving to others and therefore help others.

How to be a successful giver
  • Practice chunking your giving – research shows that doing things in a big chunk rather than in small pieces will give you a bigger boost
  • Do small favours – you have 5 minutes to spend on favours right? You can make introductions, give some quick advice and much more in 5 minutes that can have an impact
  • Do specific or specialized favours – maybe you’re very good at making introductions with friends or colleagues or providing advice in a certain subject
Other ways to be happier
  • Volunteer for about 100 hours a year – studies show that 100 hours a year is the right number to feel like you are contributing to others happiness but not so much that you burn out.

The book has made me think a lot about the different ways that I’ve given – in some ways I’ve given selflessly and in others, I’ve given to others strategically. It’s also made me think about how I’ve acted as a taker and matcher in different situations. Early on in my career, I acted more like a taker but I feel that as I’ve risen up in the company, I’ve tried to act more like a giver although in most cases, selflessly which is not ideal and prone to burnout.

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