Monday, November 4, 2013

Over-Simplifying: Adam Grant's "Give and Take"

Adam Grant is apparently one of the best business school’s best professors (and so young too!) so I have to bet that the framework in this book is an over-simplificati0on of research that I am not privy to because I didn’t hunt down the notes.  

The framework is this: there are three kinds of people in this world.  You have givers, matchers, and takers.  You see that the matchers are more transactional in their work environment, takers will just walk all over you, and givers are free with their time and expertise.  The counter-intuitive turn here is looking at the amount of success each group attains.  Matchers and takers populate the middle, but you find givers at the least successful end being walked all over.  You also find the giver at the successful end, where they have gathered so much goodwill and a vast social network because they give so much.  It’s like a secular prosperity gospel.

The rest of the book is padded out with anecdotes about some of these successful givers.  We see their paths and then want to emulate them.  I think I had higher expectations, because the thing feels padded to me, and the book is only 250 pages with average spacing.  The evidence of the successful giver is anecdotal, and I felt that there was never a systematic look at how to be the right kind of giver, who falls on the positive end of the distribution.  There’s some advice, but it feels general to me be adaptable (195); don’t fall into a pattern of selfless giving (172); volunteer for unpopular tasks and offer feedback (75).  

I didn’t mark it, but I got the sense in one passage that you had to give because you wanted to give and thus create this positive karma that would come back to you like some of the people he highlights in the book.  If you gave because you wanted to create that karma, you become a matcher and thus not available to the karma.  It struck me as a paradox, because a natural giver wouldn’t even be reading this book to try to be a giver.  This book seems to be for matchers or takers in Grant’s paradigm, who want to be better by being proactive about being  a giver.  It reinforces the potential giver into a functional matcher.  Maybe I’m wrong.

One final thing that I felt was unaddressed was a person’s ability to change.  In the book, I felt that once you are identified by one of the three categories, you are there forever.  Oddly, there is a website set up that seemed to imply that change across categories was possible, something I wanted to see in the book.  The site had  a quiz to identify what group you belonged in.  I had read the book, and each question had only three possible answers so the “right” answer was obvious.  I answered as truthfully as possible, and was labeled a matcher.  I think I knew this by the first chapter.  Perhaps that’s why I was hostile to the title.  What I liked though was that the quiz allowed nuance.  I am a majority matcher with taker tendencies.  I also have giver elements.  For example, I often write uncompensated reviews for books.