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Giving is a statement of SUCCESS

A personal book review of "Give and Take".

It sometimes feels like the world went up in flames. Not literally though, I am pretty sure in some parts it really did. Or was it just the way we interact with each other. Coming from Germany where the first question to a stranger at any social event is typically:

"What do you do?"

[Meaning: Are you important or Why should I give something about you?]

Like we only can interact or spent energy on someone if he gives us the edge, a heads up, a good connection or one other business terms that sound shady and manipulative. Where exactly did we lose our heart for being just interested in stories of other people? Becoming one of the extremes either too shy to talk ("No one cares about what I have to say anyway!") or so full of ourselves and over trained to interact that we lost the art to enjoy.

How did we end up here? When did we start to see people as others and treat them differently until proven otherwise?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that growing up is hard. Every experience is potentially a learning experience and all of them made us who we are today. The successes you felt made you choose a specific career path while avoiding others, selecting specific friends and colleagues while maintaining to learn from new experiences and grow. One of the growing pains most of us encounter through our lives is

giving will be exploited and balancing is key.

How often did someone borrow from you and never gave it back? How often did you invest in someone to be stood up at the altar? How often did you feel bad after helping because "it was right" just to end up in the center of the conflict asking yourself: Why did I help in the first place if there was nothing to gain? Not emotionally nor a thank you.

Give and Take

Adam Grant is an author, American psychologist and professor who has specialist himself in high level leadership and future thinking success (see his TED talk: The surprising habits of original thinker). His book Give and Take focuses on a someway forgotten concept:

Those who give will succeed in the mid to long term.

By combining psychological behavior, empiric data and stories from successful people he demystifies a current trend of being the strongest and in powers the idea of strength through social uplifting. To understand the concept we need first to grasp the separation Grant made to divide people's behavior and tendencies into taker, matcher and giver.


Being a matcher means to react tit for tat. Someone does something for you and you match his effort with yours. If someone helps you move you will help him move in return. Someone buys you a drink - "It is my turn now!". Matchers are always in the constant act of balancing out. They don't want to feel like they are ungrateful or owe the other person without giving something in return.

Matchers are the most common group you will find around and it sounds reasonable to balance things out, follow Karma and always greet value with value. It follows the social norm of trading, of give and get. The only problem with that is the history of most matchers and why they become this way in the first place. Most are not matchers because they believe in the balance of things and the alignment of the universe they match because they learnt that matching creates the least loses. They play the game of 'wait and see' ending up in a quite passive behavior to everything that is new and unproven. If you feel like you always have to do the first step to earn trust and progress with others - this is why. When you start to cooperate they will follow until you compete and so do they.

The mirror NEVER smiles first.

There is nothing particularly bad with matching. In the matter of things this group is doing quite fine in society generally averaging the scale - which shouldn't come as a surprise. Even as a matcher you also will have your fair share of experiences but you will unlikely end up on either sides of the extremes.

"Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return.

To obtain, something of equal value must be lost."

Alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange - Fullmetal Alchemist


A taker is best described as someone who feels entitled to get what he wants without the means of earning it. In his believe his pure presents, personality, strength (inner or outer) and experience formed a world around him that is his to take. He talks about being strong and being weak, about taking care of what you want and don't really care about the balance of things since his world is a Darwins world - survival of the fittest.

Everyone knows a taker. The man or woman who gets what he or she wants with seemly pure force. We hate and admire a lot of them at the same time. We despise their attitude and behavior of how they get results by dominance or manipulation, making others weak or take their credit. But on the flip side we admire their success, how they achieve so much, stand up for themselves and their beliefs and don't allow anyone or anything to get in their way. We also want to be on the receiving end - just not of the punch.

One of the biggest tools in a takers arsenal is powerful communication. They talk with a strong, clear, deep voice. They stand straight with full body presence, gesturing directly with focused eye contact. They don't nap, they power nap. They don't talk, they do business. And they don't think, they plan. Powerful communication is all about injecting dominance. Like in the animal kingdom it is not about who is right it is about whose presence is stronger. The problem with dominance though is that it is a zero sum game. 1:0 One side wins while the other side loses. This creates the urge to always win no matter the costs for others since the alternative is to lose. And no one likes to lose.

The short term results of this mentality are astounding. With a taker mentality a lot of people are very successful and rich in a short amount of time. They make the best first impressions with their sense of entitlement, powerful communication and manipulative attitude. Kissing up while kicking down is a very typical strategy for their meteoric rise. Compliment the boss while decrement your subordinates. Jobs that earn significantly more with the least effort are often inhabited by takers. From your investment bankers, real estate agents and executives. The higher the outcome compared to the personal risks and effort the more it is there for the taking. If your CEO earns four times more than the next best paid person in the company he is a taker (compared to an average of one and a half times more).

The price takers pay for their extremes in being overpaid, overachieving on other peoples costs, over pressuring for their ego and over self-centered is trust. The trust that normally builds over time has now the opposite effect. People will remember. Especially matcher will match negative behavior the next time they got asked for support or help. No one can keep constant pressure up they either break under their own high performance or other people get numb and tired.

Another taker problem lies in the escalation of commitment. Since their ego is tied up with their decisions they have a hard time listening to feedback - including reality. Every idea/ campaign/investment which fails often means acceptance in being wrong. As a result this group is more likely to stick to bad investments and decisions in hopes of turning it around and prove that it was a good idea in the first place since their decisions reflect their own value.


Givers are people that act in the interest of others since they emphasize with the opposite side and it fills them with joy. Essentially they give whenever their actions have a great benefit to another outweighing the costs for themselves. Compared to the win or lose game of dominance they use powerless communication which leads to prestige. Prestige is an unending sum game in which everyone can win since your glory doesn't affect someone else's. 1:1. That makes them great team players and mostly nice people since they think about their surroundings when they act. Ideas, connections, support, labor, mentoring, sharing credit or even a compliment can be a giving statement.

Professionally givers work hard and earn the highest respect from their peers since they help others whenever they can. This group also don't fall into the trap of escalating commitment because they accept generous feedback and have an easier time of letting go of their mistakes missing the personal attachment to their decisions.

Being a giver sounds like an overall solution and the best of them all.

So why aren't we all givers than?

Give and Break

Adam Grants studies shows that givers score lowest on success. From payment, to popularity, personal and professional growth. Constant giving can be a burden. Colleagues who steadily support others get less done and perform below average. Students who over support others in the first year of medicine had the worst grades compared to their peers. Since these people are so focused on helping others they forget to help themselves. They forget that they have their own challenges, quota and goals. They are emotionally inclined to let go of everything in the moment when asked for help. Of course it is more subtle playing out in reality but the helper syndrome is a thing.

"How many times must I sell myself Before my pieces are gone?"

Queens of the Stone Age - I'm Designer

Matchers and takers position themselves in the middle of the success ladder. While not a big surprise for the matchers who perform average by design it is a surprise for the takers who with their dominant mentality should lead the charts, shouldn't they? They don't. But why? Success is measured over time through a whole career and life not just occasional wins or a winning streak of years. While matchers play it safe takers sprint and get ahead fast. They lead the pack with their pure force and willpower. Being a giver is not good in a 100 meter run but it pays of in a marathon. They steadily make their miles, do their job, build connections, prove their worth and focus on their goal and through the course of a marathon outrun most takers. That is why givers are also at the top of the success ladder.

Let us go back to the medicine students. A study shows that the first year givers in medicine had the worst grades. Six years later they had the best. The reason for this incredible transformation is that the way they work changed through time from individuals to teamwork. Since most of our services rely on teamwork it became one of the most important factors of success. The same reasoning applies for high performing people that change companies. Only the stars who transfer with their team could sustain their original performance compared to the single person who not only came out worse after the change but needed years to arrive at the same level as before if ever. The study shows this trend is even more predictable than connecting smoking and lung cancer. So teamwork is important but there is another component that differentiate the lowest from the highest giver.

Selfless givers give when they can and as much as they can. They feel emotionally attached to the giving process and a lot of times connect their worth to that. People that see their worth mostly in helping others often forget to help themselves and lose their self goals and self worth in the process. These are so called doormats or pushovers to be evil for a moment. Otherish givers have a personal goal in mind in which they include others. They create rules of when and how to give and understand what it means to them. They are also not shy of asking other people for help with the difference to the takers that they don't help to chip it in later they just do it because they can and it makes them feel good.

A personal take (or give)

Giving is hard. And I mean really really hard. It is easier with our closest like family, relationships and friends but only because we built up trust over time. We know and hope that they have our best at heart and we invest in them because we believe that they are an essential part of our happiness and growth. Giving to strangers on the opposite feels stupid since we learned from negative experiences that we often don't get back what we offered or at least not how we need it. This dissatisfaction can best the strongest of us and built forceful takers or cautious matchers.

But giving also means happiness. While everyone seems to be stuck in self fulfillment with Meditation, Yoga, Veganism, #MeFirst, etc. we sometimes seem to forget that it is the act of giving that makes social creators like us the happiest. Being there for others, showing small gestures of kindness that don't need a parade only the warm cosy feeling inside us of done something good. Luckily for all of us two hours per week is enough and scientifically proven (100 hours/year rule) to create the biggest impact on your mental health and stability - or as the amateur would say: Happiness. The actions we take don't even have to be big just listening to someone, referring him for a job, giving a quick tip or taking time to appreciate someone's hard work is often more than enough to make us happy givers.

- Alex

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Response by Adam Grant himself:

"Thank you, Alex - honored that it resonated enough for you to write about it. Great reflections. I especially loved “Give and Break” as a description of what can happen to selfless givers.

Cheers, Adam"


NEXT THURSDAY: Artist of the 21st century

Mastering the skill of painting, modeling, lighting or compositing is hard already but the artist of the 21st century has also to master the software he uses, soft skills for teamwork, know how to market herself and learn topics he would never thought he need.


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