Giving and Taking: Getting Beyond the Title

Beyond Titles

In the March 31st New York Times Magazine section, there was a review of Adam Grant’s new book titled Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

I’ll just put it out there – I was enraged with this title and was ready to scream, REALLY!?!?  A twitter conversation with Josh Allan Dykstra prompted me to write this (thanks Josh Allan…and Ted Coine and Shawn Murphy, who egged me on).


I read Adam’s book over the weekend. It’s a terrific book, it should be read…and Adam Grant should have control over the titles of book reviews because it’s clear many are missing the point!

One of Adam’s reasons for giving is that it improves all our lives ~ the ones we come into contact with directly and several degrees of separation ‘away’. This hits home, and it’s not incongruent with success or ambition.

So what’s bugging me with this NYT title, Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? It’s the implicit emphasis on why we give ~ because it benefits the giver. Hello?? Didn’t this ‘all about me’ culture get us into a lot of trouble in the past 10+ years? This is not Adam’s emphasis, but you wouldn’t know it by the NYT title.

In discussing the difference between givers, matchers and takers, Adam boils down to intent – why am I giving? Is it to get tit-for-tat? Is it to get more than I will have to give?

Or instead, do I give because I love helping others and making the world better?

One can argue that the ‘output’ is always selfish – we do things that bring us joy, however we define those. But the outcomes are dramatically different – in terms of scale and scope.

I love to give. I’m blessed that giving is almost all I’ve seen in my life. My parents were givers, not in an indulgent way, but in a way that encouraged me to grow, learn, and experience knowing there was a safe harbor.

My bosses and management at Bell Labs and AT&T were givers. That’s why I think it’s my ‘natural’ response, because I never knew differently. I was raised, mentored and managed by people who focused on the “Thou” (you) instead of the “I” (me).  This has a dramatic impact!

At some point, perhaps the motivation for giving is at its core selfish (Adam addresses this in Chapter 8). Let’s face it, it feels great.  By giving, I

  • Can give back, out of desire, not obligation, for what I’ve been given
  • Meet fabulous people and connect them to do interesting things
  • Learn, grow and look at the world differently
  • Enrich the world around me for others
  • See and learn, firsthand, the significant ways our youth are making this world better
  • Teach others how terrific giving can be so they give
  • Simply have a blast!

Am I successful? I’d like to think so, at least by how I define success – a wonderful family, lifestyle, lacking nothing in terms of tangible and intangible resources and having a positive impact on others. Not bad. How did this happen? A lot of hard work, my own talents and skills and, most importantly and significantly, because of people who gave me their time, talent and trust, without asking anything in return.

Success is a result.

Why am I giving? Is it to get tit-for-tat? Is it to get more than I will have to give?

I give because I love to; because I enjoy making a difference and connecting people who, through the new math of 1+1 = 4, will change the world. That’s my intent. Has it led to my success? Sure. But if success had been the intent, I don’t think I would be successful. And I certainly wouldn’t be as joyful or have as great an impact.

Well, I feel better! Thanks!

So, read Give and Take. Read it with an open mind and heart. Put it into practice. In fact, even before you read it, this week try to give – have a chat with someone needing your wisdom, help a colleague or peer for 10 minutes on a project, stop and think about someone else. Think about how you can help him or her instead of how she or he can help you.

The joy of giving, of watching the world enriched because of it, is contagious.


Art by: Tariq3D

Deborah Mills-Scofield is a partner at Glengary LLC, an early stage venture capital firm in Cleveland, OH, and an innovation and strategy consultant. Her patent from AT&T Bell Labs was one of the highest-revenue generating patents ever for AT&T & Lucent.

  • Good, sound thinking Deb. But you should not be surprised at the NYT. It has been and is very progressive meaning focused on me, me and not you, you. It has no values, actually does not believe in them – “there are no absolutes” – and it is all about the end justifying the means. Their lens of looking at things will always lead them to such conclusions. Anyone who gives only to get will be seen through by every recipient as being shallow self-interest and never “loving thy neighbor”. “Loving thy neighbor” is the secret to becoming an exceptional manager of people as well as being an exceptional person.

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