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'Give and Take': The Business Case for Being Nice

A book argues that selflessness is the secret to success
'Give and Take': The Business Case for Being Nice
Illustration by csaimages.com

For years, business books have advised executives as if they were warriors about to fight to the death in the Colosseum. White-collar workers on commuter trains study the ruthless secrets of Jack Welch, the tactics in The Art of War, and ninja techniques in The 48 Laws of Power. Wharton professor Adam Grant wants to stand the genre on its head, arguing in Give and Take that the most successful people aren’t take-no-prisoners types, but those who selflessly give the most. Instead of monetizing contacts, time, information, or access, Grant suggests that if one just gives it all away, it will be returned in heartwarming multiples.

In Grant’s examples, giving can get you elected president: Abraham Lincoln selflessly withdrew from a Senate race in the 1830s but won the support of his opponent in the next election. Giving can also make you rich, as in the case of venture capitalist David Hornik, whose generosity with competitors helped him gain access to the best startups. Other prolific givers include Jon Huntsman Sr., who once left $200 million on the table when negotiating with a man whose wife had just died—because it was the right thing to do.