Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • Takers have a distinctive signature: they like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs. Takers believe that the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts. Garden-variety takers aren’t cruel or cutthroat; they’re just cautious and self-protective. “If I don’t look out for myself first,” takers think, “no one will.” Had David Hornik been more of a taker, he would have given Danny Shader a deadline, putting his goal of landing the investment ahead of Shader’s desire for a flexible timeline. But Hornik is the opposite of a taker; he’s a giver. In the workplace, givers are a relatively rare breed. They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them. These preferences aren’t about money: givers and takers aren’t distinguished by how much they donate to charity or the compensation that they command from their employers. Rather, givers and takers differ in their attitudes and actions toward other people. If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.

  • In the workplace, give and take becomes more complicated. Professionally, few of us act purely like givers or takers, adopting a third style instead. We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you’re a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your relationships are governed by even exchanges of favors. Giving, taking, and matching are three fundamental styles of social interaction, but the lines between them aren’t hard and fast. You might find that you shift from one reciprocity style to another as you travel across different work roles and relationships. It wouldn’t be surprising if you act like a taker when negotiating your salary, a giver when mentoring someone with less experience than you, and a matcher when sharing expertise with a colleague. But evidence shows that at work, the vast majority of people develop a primary reciprocity style, which captures how they approach most of the people most of the time. And this primary style can play as much of a role in our success as hard work, talent, and luck.

  • Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. In contrast, when givers like David Hornik win, people are rooting for them and supporting them, rather than gunning for them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. You’ll see that the difference lies in how giver success creates value, instead of just claiming it. As the venture capitalist Randy Komisar remarks, “It’s easier to win if everybody wants you to win. If you don’t make enemies out there, it’s easier to succeed.”

  • According to Brian Uzzi, a management professor at Northwestern University, networks come with three major advantages: private information, diverse skills, and power. By developing a strong network, people can gain invaluable access to knowledge, expertise, and influence. Extensive research demonstrates that people with rich networks achieve higher performance ratings, get promoted faster, and earn more money. And because networks are based on interactions and relationships, they serve as a powerful prism for understanding the impact of reciprocity styles on success.

  • Ken Lay was charming when mingling with powerful people in Washington, but many of his peers and subordinates saw through him. Looking back, one former Enron employee said, “If you wanted to get Lay to attend a meeting, you needed to invite someone important.” There’s a Dutch phrase that captures this duality beautifully: “kissing up, kicking down.” Although takers tend to be dominant and controlling with subordinates, they’re surprisingly submissive and deferential toward superiors. When takers deal with powerful people, they become convincing fakers. Takers want to be admired by influential superiors, so they go out of their way to charm and flatter. As a result, powerful people tend to form glowing first impressions of takers. A trio of German psychologists found that when strangers first encountered people, the ones they liked most were those “with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to manipulate and exploit others.” When kissing up, takers are often good fakers. In 1998, when Wall Street analysts visited Enron, Lay recruited seventy employees to pretend to be busy traders, hoping to wow the analysts with the image of a productive energy trading business. Lay led the analysts through the charade, where the employees were asked to bring personal photos to a different floor of the building so it looked like they worked there, and put on a show. They made imaginary phone calls, creating a ruse that they were busy buying and selling energy and gas. This is another sign that Lay was a taker: he was obsessed with making a good impression upward, but worried less about how he was seen by those below him. As Samuel Johnson purportedly wrote, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

  • Takers may rise by kissing up, but they often fall by kicking down. When Lay sought to impress the Wall Street analysts, he did so by exploiting his own employees, asking them to compromise their integrity to construct a façade that would deceive the analysts. Research shows that as people gain power, they feel large and in charge: less constrained and freer to express their natural tendencies. As takers gain power, they pay less attention to how they’re perceived by those below and next to them; they feel entitled to pursue self-serving goals and claim as much value as they can. Over time, treating peers and subordinates poorly jeopardizes their relationships and reputations. After all, most people are matchers: their core values emphasize fairness, equality, and reciprocity. When takers violate these principles, matchers in their networks believe in an eye for an eye, so they want to see justice served.

  • There are two different ways to recognize takers. First, when we have access to reputational information, we can see how people have treated others in their networks. Second, when we have a chance to observe the actions and imprints of takers, we can look for signs of lekking. Self-glorifying images, self-absorbed conversations, and sizable pay gaps can send accurate, reliable signals that someone is a taker. Thanks to some dramatic changes in the world since 2001, these signals are easier to spot today than ever before. Networks have become more transparent, providing us with new windows through which we can view other people’s reputations and lekking.

  • Geniuses tend to be takers: to promote their own interests, they “drain intelligence, energy, and capability” from others. Genius makers tend to be givers: they use their “intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities” of other people, Wiseman writes, such that “lightbulbs go off over people’s heads, ideas flow, and problems get solved.”

  • Givers reject the notion that interdependence is weak. Givers are more likely to see interdependence as a source of strength, a way to harness the skills of multiple people for a greater good. This appreciation of interdependence heavily influenced the way that Meyer collaborated. He recognized that if he could contribute effectively to the group, everyone would be better off, so he went out of his way to support his colleagues. When Meyer wrote for Saturday Night Live in the mid-1980s as a virtual unknown, he was almost always in the office, making himself available to give feedback. He ended up helping famous comedians like Jon Lovitz, Phil Hartman, and Randy Quaid with their writing and delivery.

  • Meyer summarizes his code of honor as “(1) Show up. (2) Work hard. (3) Be kind. (4) Take the high road.” As he contributed in ways that revealed his skills without spawning jealousy, colleagues began to admire and trust his comedic genius. “People started to see him as somebody who wasn’t just motivated personally,” Tim Long explains. “You don’t think of him as a competitor. He’s someone you can think of on a higher plane, and can trust creatively.” Carolyn Omine adds, “Compared to other writers’ rooms I’ve been in, I would say The Simpsons tends to look longer for jokes. I think it’s because we have writers, like George, who will say, ‘No, that’s not quite right,’ even if it’s late, even if we’re all tired. I think that’s an important quality. We need those people, like George, who aren’t afraid to say, ‘No, this isn’t good enough. We can do better.’”

Note: I abandoned this book midway. I realised that I don’t need to read all the cherry picked examples to get the point of the book.