Adam Grant is the author of ‘Give and Take’. In
the book, he divides people into givers, takers
and matchers. The takers are people who, in
interaction with another person, are trying to
get as much as possible from that person and
contribute as little as they can in return,
thinking it’s the shortest path to achieving
their own goals.
At the other end, there’s a strange breed of
people that he calls the “givers.” They look to
help others in any way possible – mentoring
or sharing knowledge, for instance – without
any strings attached. Givers actually prefer to
be on the contributing end of an interaction.
There are very few people who are purely
takers or purely givers. A lot of people are
somewhere in between.
The third group of people are what he calls
‘matchers’. A matcher is somebody who tries
to maintain an even balance of give and take.
If I help you, I expect you to help me in return.
They keep score of exchanges, and try to
ensure that everything is fair and just.
Grant says, when he started doing the
research for the book, he realised that one
could find these three ‘styles’ of people in a
wide variety of industries and countries. He
found that, in sales, the most productive sales
people are actually those who put their
customers’ interests first. It often comes from
the trust and the good will that they have
built, but also the reputations that they create.
He learned, also, that the success of givers
and the fall of takers is often driven by
matchers. A matcher is somebody who really
believes in a just world. Of course, a taker
violates that belief. Matchers cannot stand to
see takers get ahead by taking advantage of
other people, and will often go around trying
to punish them, sometimes by spreading
negative reputational information.
Matchers also hate to see people act really
generously and not get rewarded for it, and
so will often go out of their way to promote
and help and support givers to make sure
they get rewarded for their generosity.
One of the people Grant met while
researching, Peter Audet, is a financial
advisor. He’s the kind of guy who goes out of
his way to help everyone he meets. For years,
he would interview job candidates, and he
would only be able to hire one. He would
often give up his entire afternoon trying to
find jobs for the other people who he
couldn’t hire himself, through his personal
He often got into trouble helping others. In
one particular case, he had a colleague (called
Brad in the book), who was getting out of the
business, and he needed somebody to buy
his clients quickly. Peter said, “Sure, I’ll do it.”
He paid about $10,000 for Brad’s clients on
the spot, just to help him out. A couple
months later, Peter started losing his clients.
He discovered that all of those clients that he
was losing were former clients of Brad’s that
he had bought. He did a little bit of homework
and found out that Brad was back in the
business, and was basically taking his clients
back but not paying Peter a dime for them.
The situation cost Peter a lot of money.
But Peter told Grant that he has been
enormously successful in his career. He runs a
financial advisory firm that’s well over seven
figures, in terms of annual revenue, and he
believes that being a giver is how he has
gotten ahead, and how he wins business.
Oftentimes, givers put themselves at risk in
the short run, but in the long run, they end up
building the kind of social capital that’s really
important for success in a very connected
world. Once Peter drove out to visit a client in
the scrap metal business, who was worth
very, very little money. Peter’s colleagues had
said, “Don’t bother. It’s a waste of your time.
The drive out there alone is not worth your
hourly fee.” But Peter said, “You can’t just
ignore somebody because they’re not worth
your time. I really want to help in any way I
can.” The client turns out not to be a scrap
metal worker, but the owner of a lucrative
scrap metal business. He multiplied his fees by
a factor of 100 once he saw what a generous
guy Peter is.
Peter has gotten better at protecting himself
and screening. Before he determines how
much he’ll help them, he asks, “Is this person
a taker, a giver or a matcher?” But at the end
of the day, he also ends up helping people
who he would never expect to be able to help
him back. But sometimes they do.
Takers tend to have incredibly broad
networks. In part, it’s because when they
burn one bridge, they have to go and find
new people to exploit in order to keep the
network going. Matchers tend to have much
narrower networks. They will typically only
exchange with people who have helped them
in the past, or who they expect to be able to
help them in the future. They end up
restricting their universe of opportunities.
Givers tend to build much broader networks
than matchers, but in a very different. What
givers will typically do when they meet
somebody new is try to figure out, “How can I
add value to this person’s life, and what could
I possibly contribute that might benefit this
person?” What that typically means is they
end up creating a lot of good will in the
relationships that they build, and that often
lies dormant until they may actually need it.
There are some powerful ways to spot a
taker. Let’s start with the corner office.
There’s a phenomenal study by Chatterjee and
Hambrick that looked at over 100 computer
companies, and downloaded the annual
reports of each. They tried to figure out if one
could identify the taker CEOs without ever
meeting them. They got Wall Street analysts to
rate how much each CEO is a taker. These
analysts knew the CEOs and interacted with
them, so they rated the extent to which they
were entitled, narcissistic and self-serving.
The first factor that really correlated highly
with those ratings was the gap in
compensation between the CEO and the next
highest-paid executive. Typically, a computer
industry CEO makes about two to two and a
half times as much annual compensation as
the next highest-paid executive in that
company. The typical taker CEO had about
seven times more annual compensation than
the next highest-paid executive in that
Also, takers tended to use first-person
singular pronouns, like “I” and “me,” as
opposed to “us” and “we,” when talking
about the company. Thirdly, takers literally feel
it’s all about them; that they are the most
important and central figure in the company.
When you looked at their photos in the
company’s annual reports, they actually had
larger photos, or were more likely to be
pictured alone.
Some research by Keith Campbell and his
colleagues suggests that you can even spot
these cues on Facebook. Takers tend to be
very careful at impression management and
ingratiation when they’re dealing with
someone superior or more influential. But it’s
hard to keep up the façade in every
interaction. It’s often peers and subordinates
who have a more direct window into what
this person’s true motives are like.
(Knowledge@Whar ton): When Mahatma
Gandhi edited a magazine, he would receive
all kinds of letters. One letter was from a
young woman who was about to get
engaged. She was going to meet her
prospective fiancé for the first time, and
wanted to know how she could judge this
person. The advice that Mahatma Gandhi gave
her was, “Don’t look at how he treats you.
Look at how he treats his servants.”
Grant says, in doing the research for the
book, he found some historical examples
fascinating. One was Frank Lloyd Wright, who
at one point discovered, as an architect, that
his draftsmen were getting more
commissions and more work than he was,
because customers and clients found them
easier to work with and every bit as talented.
He was offended by this, and felt they should
be subservient to him. He actually set a policy
that they were not allowed to accept
independent commissions. If while working
in his studio they did any work, even if he
never touched it, his name had to be signed
first. That cost him a lot of very, very talented
drafts people.
Another example is Jonas Salk, who’s
remembered as a hero for discovering and
commercializing a polio vaccine. But if you
look at Salk’s behaviour really closely, one of
the things you’ll see is that he never gave
credit to any of the people in his lab who
helped him discover the vaccine, and
eventually caused the team to splinter. Salk
never made a discovery that was nearly as
influential again.
On the other hand, in collaboration, givers
tend to assume that credit is not zero sum. If I
give you credit for your contributions, that
doesn’t necessarily take away from my
contribution. That makes it a lot easier to
keep people on board a team over time. So
typically, if you’re a leader or a manager,
people will follow you if you rotate to a
different organization or a different job.
That’s really powerful, but often hard to do.
In Salk’s case, he remembered the blood and
sweat that he put in when he was working
toward creating that polio vaccine, but literally
couldn’t remember the contributions of his
colleagues, because he wasn’t there a lot of
the time. He didn’t actually experience them.
Grant goes on to describe an accounting
professor at the University of North Carolina
and Duke his name is CJ Skender. The man has
taught over 35,000 students in his career;
won every teaching award on the planet; and
has a remarkable gift for bringing out the
best in his students. He’s had over three
dozen students follow him to become
professors of accounting. How does he do it?
A lot of people assume that he’s got a great
eye for talent, and is immediately able to spot
the quantitative savants and then work with
CJ says, no, it’s the exact opposite. He sees
every student who walks into his classroom
as a diamond in the rough, waiting to be
polished. Then he tries to make his classes as
interesting as possible to bring out the best
in those students. By making his material
interesting, he shifts some people toward
becoming more motivated and hard-working.
People like CJ inspire his students to put in the
10,000 hours we have found are critical to
achieving expertise.
In a way, being a matcher is a safer strategy.
Knowing that givers end up at the bottom
and the top means there are some risks
associated with it. But Grant believes those
risks can be mitigated with careful strategies,
and a lot of it comes down to setting
Many givers confuse being helpful or being
generous with being available for every
person and every request all the time. There
are other givers who confuse being generous
with empathizing and dropping everything
that you’re doing to help others. He found
that there are also a lot of givers out there
who feel like it’s inappropriate to advocate
for their own interests. But one must decide,
“How am I going to help most of the people
most of the time?”
He came up with a concept called the five-
minute favour. Instead of just helping
everyone all the time, ask, “Can I offer
something of unique value to this other
person that will take me five minutes or less?”
High benefit to others, but low cost to the self.
Interestingly, there’s yet another group of
givers that he calls “otherish.” They are
concerned about benefitting others, but they
also keep their own interests in the rearview
mirror. They strive for a “win-win,” as
opposed to win-lose. Ironically, he finds that
the selfless givers are actually less generous,
because they run out of energy, time, and
ultimately lose their resources, because they
don’t take enough care of themselves.
So ask yourself, “What are the types of giving
that you find most energizing or most
consistent with your skills?” Finding your own
giver style is really powerful. Even if givers
don’t always do better than takers or
matchers, they manage to succeed in ways
that make others better. Looking for ways to
do that is probably the most sustainable path
to success in the long term, both for
individuals and organizations.


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