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Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations

Dan Ariely

Personal Thoughts

A good introduction to Ariely's works. Payoff examines human motivation and how it is more than just money and recognition. Other important elements of motivation include meaning, effort, and ownership. You can use this book to motivate yourself or your team by better understanding how motivation works.

Summary Notes

  • I realized how many of our motivations spring from trying to conquer a sense of helplessness and reclaim even a tiny modicum of control over our lives.
  • Research that examines the differences between meaning and happiness finds that the things that give us a sense of meaning don’t necessarily make us happy. Moreover, people who report having meaningful lives are often more interested in doing things for others, while those who focus mostly on doing things for themselves report being only superficially happy. Of course, “meaning” is a slippery concept, but its essential quality has to do with having a sense of purpose, value, and impact—of being involved in something bigger than the self.
  • Our ingrained desire to believe that our lives have purpose beyond our life span drives us to work extra hard, even to the point of our own personal suffering, in order to gain more meaning.
  • We care deeply about meaning, we care about it more as we become aware of our own mortality—and if we have to go to hell and back in a search for meaning and connection, we will, and we will get deep satisfaction along the way.
  • Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose. —Viktor E. Frankl
  • These results show that when we are acknowledged for our work, we are willing to work harder for less pay, and when we are not acknowledged, we lose much of our motivation.
  • Acknowledgment is a kind of human magic—a small human connection, a gift from one person to another that translates into a much larger, more meaningful outcome. On the positive side, these results also show that we can increase motivation simply by acknowledging the efforts of those working with us.
  • According to Gallup, which has been collecting data on employee engagement for many years, American workers are generally unmotivated in their jobs—a problem that has risen steadily by about 2 percent a year since Gallup began examining this issue in 2000. Today, more than 50 percent of employees are disengaged, while only about 17 percent are “actively disengaged.”
  • Negative motivation is a big deal, because when people are disengaged, they show up late, they leave early, they fail to keep on top of their expense accounts, they do the least that they can, and sometimes they even actively sabotage their employers.
  • When trying to intuit the outcome of these different conditions, participants predicted that the effect of meaning would be much smaller than it actually was. They greatly underestimated the power of meaning.
  • One important way to do this is to treat them as unique individuals not to be used, but rather to be appreciated and respected for their creativity and intelligence.
  • At the offices of Zappos, for example, employees are encouraged to be “weird.” They decorate their cubicles in all kinds of wonderful, adventurous ways. Stuffed animals hang from ceilings; balloons are everywhere; the company looks like a cross between a party supply store and a toy shop, all in the service of fostering employees’ sense of individuality and creativity. You might think that only little kids are motivated by this kind of environment. But the truth is that we never really grow up.
  • If we are feeling bored and unmotivated, we can ask ourselves: How is the work I’m doing helping someone down the road? What meaning can I find here? With this type of mind-set, chances are that we will be able to find a positive answer.
  • We are strongly motivated by identity, the need for recognition, a sense of accomplishment, and feeling of creation.
  • The same basic lessons of meaningful engagement, and our underappreciation for its role in our lives, also apply to many other aspects of our lives—which is why we often end up shying away from the more effortful and challenging experiences. If we have the money, we hire people to clean our houses, take care of our yards, or set up our wi-fi systems to avoid being bothered by these common annoyances. But think about the long-term joy we miss out on when we don’t engage in such tasks. Could it be that when we trade off annoyance for more efficient task completion that we end up accomplishing more but at the cost of becoming more alienated from our work, the food we eat, our gardens, our homes, and even our social lives?
  • The lesson here is that a little sweat equity pays us back in meaning—and that is a high return.
  • With these surprising results in mind, we told the top management at Intel about our findings. “Look,” we said, “you thought that the monetary bonus would boost performance. But the data show that performance actually declined. You ended up paying a bonus and getting worse performance. Clearly, your intuitions about bonuses are not exactly on target. Why not let us test the effect of monetary bonuses throughout the company, including the bonuses for top management?” As you might have guessed, the executives had no interest in this research path.
  • Adding money to the equation can backfire and make people less driven.
  • Monetary bonuses resulted in the sharpest decrease in productivity, while rewarding people’s performance with a compliment increased engagement even on the days when there was no bonus.
  • The more a company can offer employees opportunities for meaning and connection, the harder those employees are likely to work and the more enduring their loyalty is likely to be.
  • In short, these findings suggest that when we are in the midst of a task, we focus on the inherent joy of the task, but when we think about the same task in advance, we overfocus on the extrinsic motivators, such as payment and bonuses.
  • We can help our friends, our coworkers, our employees, and ourselves when we remember that love and caring matter.
  • Smith assumed that management could change the structure of the workplace and achieve more efficiency without sacrificing human motivation. Marx, on the other hand, assumed that the efficiency gained from breaking tasks into components would come at the expense of human motivation. Which perspective is correct?
  • When people are not able to focus on the larger meaning of their labor, they are more or less stuck in the modern equivalent of a pin factory.
  • To foster goodwill at work, companies need to make it a core value, across the company. One of the most gallant efforts to reinforce goodwill came from Doug Conant, Campbell Soup Company’s former CEO, who hand wrote thank-you notes to people whose acts of goodwill reached his ears or his inbox. By the time he left the company, he’d written more than thirty thousand such notes. The net-net is this: It is relatively easy to create goodwill. All we need is an encouraging word here and there, a gift from time to time, and a sincere look in the eyes. But we also need to keep in mind that goodwill is fragile. Supporting it is easy, but destroying it is even easier.
  • In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams describes the search for the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” To get this answer, a specially built supercomputer called Deep Thought spent 7.5 million years toiling away. Here’s the passage from the book: “Good Morning,” said Deep Thought at last. “Er . . . good morning, O Deep Thought,” said Loonquawl nervously, “do you have . . . er, that is . . .” “An Answer for you?” interrupted Deep Thought majestically. “Yes, I have.” The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain. “There really is one?” breathed Phouchg. “There really is one,” confirmed Deep Thought. “To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and everything?” “Yes.” Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children. “And you’re ready to give it to us?” urged Loonquawl. “I am.” “Now?” “Now,” said Deep Thought. They both licked their dry lips. “Though I don’t think,” added Deep Thought, “that you’re going to like it.” “Doesn’t matter!” said Phouchg. “We must know it! Now!” “Now?” inquired Deep Thought. “Yes! Now . . .” “All right,” said the computer, and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable. “You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought. “Tell us!” “All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question . . .” “Yes . . . !” “Of Life, the Universe and Everything . . .” said Deep Thought. “Yes . . . !” “Is . . .” said Deep Thought, and paused. “Yes . . . !” “Is . . .” “Yes . . . !!! . . .?” “Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.
  • At some point or another, we all become offenders against (perhaps even killers of) human motivation when we ignore, criticize, disregard, or destroy the work of others.
  • We’re much more driven by all kinds of intangible, emotional forces: the need to be recognized and to feel ownership; to feel a sense of accomplishment; to find the security of a long-term commitment and a sense of shared purpose. We want to feel as if our labor and lives matter in some way, even after death.
  • To motivate ourselves and others successfully, we need to provide a sense of connection and meaning—remembering that meaning is not always synonymous with personal happiness. Arguably, the most powerful motivator in the world is our connection to others.

Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations

Dan Ariely
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