Which Leads to More Success? Giving or Taking

Reading Grant’s book, Give and Take, has changed the way I think about success and how to get there. As someone who has grown up with LDS beliefs, I have always been aware of the importance of charity. However, reading this book has helped me understand how having the characteristic of being giving strongly transcends into everything that we do, even in the workplace and in our careers. After reading Give and Take, I thought about the teachings of this book that I felt impacted me the most. Two teachings that I would like to apply more in my life and further discuss are learning to see higher potential in others and mastering the art of being an otherish giver.

As a future potential manager, I need to be aware of how I can truly help others succeed so the whole organization can be successful. By being trusting and optimistic about other people’s intentions and potential, I can help them maximize their growth. Grant shares the findings of a few studies that demonstrate how the teacher’s perspective of his/her students had a significant impact on the success and intelligence achieved by those students. Students from kindergarten through fifth grade took a Harvard cognitive ability test that measures students’ verbal and reasoning skills (Grant 2013, 96). The teachers were then told which students in their class demonstrated potential for intellectual blooming.

A year later those same selected students did in fact perform better than the other students and at a faster pace. Based on these results, intelligence seems like a very important factor in differentiating between those students that are high potential and those that are not, but in reality the only difference was in the mind of the teacher. The students labeled as bloomers did not actually perform higher on the Harvard cognitive ability test, but were rather chosen at random (Grant 2013, 97). The study performed by Rosenthal was designed to determine what happens to students when teachers believed they had high potential.

The teacher’s belief in those students labeled as bloomers created self-fulfilling prophecies. The teachers communicated more warmly to the bloomers, engaged in more supportive behaviors, gave bloomers more challenging assignments, provided them more feedback, and called on them more often (Grant 2013, 97). Many other studies also show that teacher expectations are especially important for improving the grades and intelligence test scores of low-achieving students and minority groups.

When I was reading about this study, I reflected on my childhood years and the impact that one teacher’s encouragement affected in me. I remember I was in the fifth grade, and Mrs. Williams asked to speak with me outside of the classroom. She told me that at the moment I had a B in one of my math classes, but that she believed in me and knew I was smart enough to get an A in that class. The fact that she believed in me and felt I was capable of doing better strongly motivated me to try harder. The fact that she cared enough about my success and set higher expectations for me encouraged me to do the best I could. Because Mrs. Williams believed in me, I was not only successful in that math class but also continued to remember her words of encouragement long after. I consistently tried to do better in each of my classes in middle school and high school. I graduated valedictorian of my high school class because of giving teachers like Mrs. Williams who believed in me and always told me I was capable of achieving more.

Grant also shared a study that was performed on more fully formed adults in the armed forces. Platoon leaders were given the information that the average command potential of their trainees was appreciably higher than the usual level, even though these trainees were actually just chosen at random. The trainees randomly selected as high-potentials did significantly better on expertise tests and weapon evaluations than the trainees who were not arbitrarily selected as high-potentials. The platoon leaders became givers towards those labeled as high-potentials and provided more help, career advice, and feedback. When those high-potential trainees made mistakes, instead of assuming that they lacked ability, the leaders saw opportunities for teaching and learning. The supportive and giving behaviors of the leaders boosted the ability and confidence of those trainees, which encouraged the trainees to achieve higher performance.

The result of these studies has strong implications for leaders in management positions. Positive interventions can have a fairly large effect on the performance of employees. By having a genuine interest and belief in the potential of employees and engaging in actions that support others and communicate that belief, managers will be more successful in achieving greater outcomes for their organization and employees.

Another teaching that I find very useful to apply in my life is the idea of being an otherish giver. As Grant explains in his book, an otherish giver cares about benefitting others, but also has ambitious goals for advancing their own interests. People are most successful when they are driven by a hybrid engine of self-interest and caring for others (Grant 2013, 157). When people are complete selfless givers they give their time and energy without regard for their own needs, and then have to pay a price for it. Selfless givers end up harming themselves in the long run and are prone to get burned out. To avoid harming ourselves, we need to maintain a balance by being willing to give more than we receive, but still keeping our own interests in sight.

One of the wonderful secrets of life is that those who win most are often those who give most. The book Give and Take by Adam Grant has profound implications for how we can manage our careers, design our institutions, and deal with our coworkers, friends, and relatives. Through his stories and empirical evidence, Grant demonstrates that contrary to popular belief, the best way to climb to the top of the ladder is to take others up there with you. By being giving in the way that we see potential in others and being an otherish giver, we will be in a better position to flourish and help others succeed.


Grant, Adam. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. New York: Brown, 2013.

Like what you read? Give Rohmee González a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.