Book Review: Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Adam Grant, New York: Viking, 2013.
Review By: Tracy Sakon
In the new book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant categorizes people into three types: givers, matchers, and takers. Givers proactively help others, matchers have a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" attitude, and takers are the suck ups and backstabbers of the world. I bet if a study was done on which of these three categories most librarians fall into, we would have a healthy surplus of givers. Our profession focuses on helping others; we devote our time to directly and indirectly aiding patrons with their information needs. Grant writes about the advantages of adopting a giving approach in the workplace, and many of his suggestions and anecdotes can be applied to the library science field.
One does not automatically associate giving with success. Grant aptly points out that parents inculcate "sharing and caring" values in their children, but these same values do not seem to transcend into the working world. Grant states, "We may love Shel Silverstein for our kids, but ... the fascination of many business gurus with Sun Tzu's The Art of War suggests that we don't see much room for giver values in our professional lives" (22). However, giving does not have to preclude success; in fact, it can lead to greater success for oneself and others. Grant says, "Extensive research reveals that people who give their time and knowledge regularly to help their colleagues earn more raises and promotions in a wide range of settings" (74). Grant often invokes the metaphor of a pie throughout the book: Givers increase the size of the pie and, therefore, can cut generous slices all around.
Have you ever met someone who seems to have everything but is so deserving of everything they have accomplished that it is nearly impossible to dislike them for it? Research has found that while "highly talented people tend to make others jealous, placing themselves at risk of being disliked, resented, ostracized, and undermined. But if these talented people are also givers, they no longer have a target on their backs" (71). Grant notes that most people are matchers, and matchers want to see givers rise to the top and takers fail and get their just desserts. By giving in the workplace, givers are not only more likely to be well-liked, but they are also more likely to have other people root for their long-term success.
When I took a class on reference services, my instructor emphasized the importance of the reference interview. A key component of the reference interview is to actively listen to the patron and ask guided questions to help him or her specify what type of information source he or she is looking for. Grant cites research performed by psychologist James Pennebaker that found the more people talk, the more they think they have learned. Grant quotes Pennebaker: "Most of us find that communicating our thoughts is a supremely enjoyable learning experience" (137). This research reiterates what the reference interview posits: sometimes, people need to talk out their information needs in order to fully grasp their research need. By listening, librarians are able to fully understand the patron's need and are also more likely to provide an enjoyable reference experience for the patron. This, in turn, makes the patron more likely to seek reference services in the future and further adds to the cycle of success in a thriving library environment.
One of the great pitfalls of being a giver is the potential for burnout. After studying various groups of people, Grant came to the conclusion that there are two types of givers: selfless givers and "otherish" givers. Selfless givers are less successful than otherish givers because they give to the point of self-sacrifice and are much more likely to experience burnout. Otherish givers, on the other hand, "care about benefitting others, but ... also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests" (157). Grant goes on to explain that the way most people think about burnout is counterproductive. While one might think that giving less would prevent burnout, the opposite is true: giving more prevents burnout. Grant states, "Givers don't burn out when they devote too much time and energy to giving. They burn out when they're working with people in need but are unable to help effectively" (165). If givers are able to see how their efforts are contributing to both other people's lives and their own in a positive manner, they are further energized to continue giving. Furthermore, otherish givers are more inclined to ask for help than selfless givers; they don't view their work as a cross they alone need to bear. They are willing to seek help from their colleagues and mentors "which enables them to marshal the advice, assistance, and resources necessary to maintain their motivation and energy" (177). Librarians can learn from the otherish style of giving. Although, as librarians, we may think our job is to serve others, we can benefit greatly by asking for help when we feel we are on the brink of burnout.
Give and Take is a great read for anyone in the professional world who wants to succeed while maintaining a moral compass. I found some parts of the book more applicable than others to the library science field-the sections on the importance of listening and how to prevent burnout seemed especially useful for a field associated with giving, such as librarianship. However, the book's overly eager attempts to classify people into types and subtypes can be tiresome. People can vary between all three styles: we may be givers in certain aspects of our work and takers in others; people have their good days and bad days and one good or bad step should not permanently solidify a person as a giver or taker. I think if one is able to read this book and resist the urge to hastily stereotype other people into one of the three types, it could be a very useful and powerful read. We all could use a little motivation to give more.
Teresa Sakon is graduating this summer from the University of Maryland's iSchool. She currently works as a publications assistant for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.