Givers, takers and matchers by Adam Grant


GIVE AND TAKE by Adam Grant

It is well to remember that the entire universe –except one trifling exception- is composd of others. [John Andrew Holmes, former US representative and senator.]


Give and take is a great book. It has 280 pages but it could have been written in 20 pages…..really worthwhile to make an essay about it. Downside of the book is that it has not convinced me completely. He could be correct, but may be not. However the learnings and viewpoints are really interesting so I am gonna work with this stuff anyway.


This is Adam Grant. I became his friend on linkedin as I thought he wrote an amazing blog, which made me decide to read his book. He is a professor at Warton Business School. He studied at Harvard… enough credentials?

What makes the book so interesting?  This book is about givers, takers and matchers. He starts by asking: who are the least successful givers, takers or matchers? Think about it. And who do you think are most successful? Interesting huh. I’ll get you the answer later. First let me share the blog which hit me. It is about the importance of shared experience in teams, which is becoming more and more a subject of my interest:


What’s the Common Ingredient for Success Across Teams of Surgeons, Bank Analysts, Software Developers, Airline Pilots, and Basketball Players?

May 05, 2013

To get important work done, most leaders organize people into teams. They believe that when people collaborate toward a common goal, great things can happen. Yet in reality, the whole is often much less than the sum of the parts.

Many teams fail because they lack the requisite experience. If you want to perform a successful cardiac surgery, you need to bring in surgeons who have mastered the techniques. If your aim is to make good stock recommendations to investors, it would be wise to hire analysts with a long track record of star performance. If your goal is to produce high-quality software, land an airplane safely, or win basketball games, you’d be smart to rely on people who have done it before. As Jim Collins put it, we need to get the right people on the bus.

But what if work experience is overrated? In a brilliant study, researchers Robert Huckman and Gary Pisano tracked more than 200 cardiac surgeons at 43 hospitals. After analyzing more than 38,000 procedures, it turned out that the surgeons didn’t get better with practice. Their patient mortality rates were no better after 100 surgeries than after the first few.

A closer look at the data revealed a fascinating pattern. The surgeons did get better as they gained more experience at a particular hospital. Each procedure performed at one hospital decreased patient mortality rates by an average of 1%. But the benefits of experience didn’t carry over to other hospitals.

The technologies weren’t any different from one hospital to another; the people were. When the surgeons left their teams behind, it was as if they were starting over from scratch without any of the benefits of practice. Practice wasn’t an individual act; it was a team process. As the surgeons worked with a core team of nurses and anesthesiologists at one hospital, they developed effective routines that leveraged the unique talents of each member.

In teams, it appears that shared experience matters more than individual experience. The best groups aren’t necessarily the ones with the most stars, but rather the teams that have collaborated in the past. In a study of more than 1,000 security analysts led by Boris Groysberg, when star analysts moved to a new firm, it took them an average of at least five years to recover their star status—unless they moved with their teams. The star analysts who moved alone had 5% odds of receiving the highest ranking from investors, whereas those who transferred with their teams enjoyed a 10% chance of earning the top spot.

Huckman and his colleagues found similar patterns in a study of more than 100 software development projects. The highest quality and on-time delivery rates were achieved not by the teams whose members had the most individual experience, but by the teams whose members had the most shared experience working together. Another study of product development teams showed that it typically took two to four years for members to gain sufficient experience working together to achieve their potential.

Shared experience in teams is so important that Richard Hackman, one of the world’s foremost experts on teams, went so far as to include it in the very definition of team effectiveness. In Leading Teams, he argues that we in addition to assessing the quality and quantity of output, we should expand our measures of team effectiveness to include viability—whether the team retains its capability to work together in the future.

The benefits of shared experience are visible outside knowledge work. Hackman referenced a NASA study showing that fatigued crews with experience flying together made significantly fewer errors than rested crews who had never flown together. He also pointed to an NTSB analysis of airline accidents revealing that 44% occurred on a crew’s first flight together and 73% on a crew’s first day. And an investigation of all NBA basketball games played from 1980 to 1994 showed that as teams gained more experience, they won more games. This was true even after accounting for player talent and age,

There are alternative explanations for some of these findings. Many airline crews only do one flight or day together, meaning that there are more chances for accidents to occur on first flights and first days. Basketball executives and coaches work harder to keep successful teams together—and players are more motivated to stay with winning teams. Consistent with this idea, when NBA teams win more games in year 1, they’re more likely to stay together in year 2. But the opposite also holds: NBA teams with more shared experience in year 1 win more games in year 2.

Interestingly, in the NBA and R&D, the gains from shared experience declined over time. The value of the first few years together was much greater than additional years accumulated. As teams stayed together longer, they had less to learn and faced a greater risk of becoming too rigid and predictable in their routines. At that point, rotating a member—or a coach—might be a critical step. But most teams never made it there. The vast majority of teams weren’t together long enough to benefit from shared experience.

Today, too many teams are temporary: people collaborate on a single project and never work together again. Teams need the opportunity to learn about each other’s capabilities and develop productive routines. So once we get the right people on the bus, let’s make sure they spend some time driving together.


Shared experience, a thing Team academy has been pushing so much. Good news, it is a scientifically proven concept.

Now back to the givers, takers and matchers….. the least successful ones are the givers. And guess what: the most successful ones are givers too! This essay will give you more insight in givers and takers and why it is important that a certain type of givers on your teams.


In one of my other essays ‘THE POWER OF FULL ENGAGEMENT

Jim Loehr en Tony Schwartz’ I write that life that Life is a series of sprints. In sprints the takers win (not in a series of sprints though). In this book I found the following quote: Being a giver is not good for a 100yrd dash, but it is valuable in a marathon. As I see it, let’s skip the marathon and lets make it a series of sprints. Point is that we looking at the long run, not at isolated sprints.


So here is the point of Adam; traditional wisdom has it that success can be measured by motivation, capability and opportunity. However success depends greatly on how we interact with other people too. Lets have a look.




A network is an investment in meaningful relationships and activities. Networks come with three major advantages: diverse skills, private information and power. A network thrives best on givers. As a taker it is difficult to build a network. Gossip is a way to punish perceived takers. Often therefor takers become fakers. You recognize a taker by the way he treats his subordinates. Kissing up, kicking down. There are other ways to recognize takers:

–       As takers are self absorbed, they often use first person singular pronouns, I me  my myself

–       Takers have much higher compensation or salaries. Research shows that takers earn on average 7 times more than the next highest paid, while the average is 2,5 times,

–       Furthermore you can see it in all kinds of small things: the size of a picture you use of yourself, the car you drive in, etc.


Interdepence & innovation

Adam believes in the power of weak times. Those people who you know but are not family or close friends. To be connected to them can be very rewarding. Givers share credits within the network, takers keep the credits themselves. Takers belief interdependence is a weakness, givers belief it to be a strength. The way givers operate is called ‘expedition behaviour’: putting the groups goals and mission first and showing the same amount of concern for others as for yourself.


If takers challenge the status quo, others were sceptical as they thought the opinion must be self serving. If givers challenge the status quo however, they are often listened to.



Responsibility bias: the over estimation of your own performance (proven aberration). Takers have a higher responsibility bias.


Performance gap: when we are not experiencing a psychologically or physically intense state, we dramatically under estimate how it will effect us. A really interesting test was done to prove this:

2 groups of people were asked to estimate how cold it would be to sit in a freezing room for 5 hours. 1 group had there are in warm water, the other group in ice water. What do you guess…? The group with the arm in cold water expected the most p[ain of sitting in the freezing cold room. Next they had a third group. This group had had their arm in ice water, but they were allowed to take their arm out 10 minutes before answering the question. You would expect their answer was the same as the cold group, but it was not! There answer was similar to the warm group. Already after 10 minutes they could not imagine anymore what it would be to be in the cold room. That is why the performance gap is such a powerful and interesting phenomena.


In collaborations takers can hardly ever cross the performance gap. They are too much focused on their own perspective.



A classical way of recognizing potential is the Harvard cognitive ability test. It measures students’ verbal and reasoning skills, which are known to be critical to learning and problem solving.

Robert Rosenthal did a study as follows: he told teachers by using this test he had selected the top 20% of a group of students. In the following years he followed these students. It turned out the performed much better than the other 80%. The catch? He did use the test to select the students but chose them at random. The reason they outperformed the other students was purely that teachers believed they had high potential. It was a purely a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many tests have verified this…. Self-fulfilling prophecies in the class room are real! [On page 165 Grant mentions that the impact of teachers can take many years for their impact to sink in)


Givers are trusting and optimistic; they see easily the potential in others. Therefor givers are in general great teachers.


A great example it’s the study of great and famous pianists. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10.000 hour rule. Talent or not, if you study for 10.000 hours you’ll be a master. Sounds easy but to invest 10.000 hours, you must really love what you do. And that is where givers come in. It turned out that the first teachers of these great pianists were not great teachers but very passionate teachers. They loved what they did and believed in the kids they taught. They were able to convey this trust and enthusiasm and transform it in a willingness to practice.



A few points in this chapter deserve to be mentioned here:

  1. the power of vulnerability
    Grant gives some examples in which vulnerability does work well. (by the way if you think this is interesting watch Brene Brown on Next he explains that for givers it is much easier to show vulnerability than for takers. Takers tend to worry that that revealing weakness will reveal their dominance and authority.
  2. Learning
    Logically you learn more when you listen. However Pennebaker found the opposite: the more people talked, the greater they felt their learnings were. Therefor takers often have the feeling they know a lot. But theu van be wrong.
  3. The best way of persuasion is to lead others to your conclusion on your terms.
  4. Powerless speech.
    Powerless speech consists of tentative talk: hesitations, tag questions, hedges, disclaimers, etc (page 144). This works even better if we lack authority.



Research of Caring Canadians showed that the most successful givers:

–       were much more powerful givers: they mentioned the words helping and giving 3 times as many in their life stories.

–       However they also scored much higher on self interest. In their life stories they mentioned the quest for power and achievement twice as often as others.

Grant found that self interest and other interest are completely independent motivations. The successful givers score high on both.


The book continues another 50 pages, but the above represents my key learnings.


How to put the book into practice

  1. I am going to write an essay on ‘Next generation entrepreneurs are givers’
  2. I am going to continue my work on remaining a giver but with a core with a strong self-interest.











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