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  • OK, so I want to talk today a little about human motivation.

  • What gets us to care and act, and be active.

  • And the starting point,

  • especially being in Chicago, close to the University of Chicago,

  • in the Economics Department of Chicago.

  • I think it is worthwhile to think that our basic idea about human motivation

  • is that we think about people like rats.

  • People don't like to work.

  • If we were left to our own accord what we would be doing,

  • we would be on a beach somewhere sipping mojitos...

  • And the ony reason we work is because we need to get money,

  • so that we can eventually sit on the beach drinking mojitos.

  • (Laughter)

  • But the basic motivation is to enjoy leisure and not work

  • and everything else is just a distraction in order so we can do that.

  • And it is a fine model, but we should ask ourselves,

  • is this a correct depiction of human motivation

  • is this really what gets us to act and to do things.

  • And one challenge you can think about is mountain climbing.

  • If you look at people who have climbed different mountains

  • and their depictions, and histories and stories

  • you would think this is the most miserable thing in the world.

  • People are cold, and have frostbite

  • It's hard to breathe, it's difficult.

  • I climbed a little peak in the Himalayas many years ago

  • and you would think that you would get to the top,

  • and sit there and enjoy the view.

  • No! It's cold, it's miserable, you're tired.

  • Just go down as fast as possible from that point on. (Laughter)

  • And if you think about this behavior

  • and say to yourself, here is something that every moment seems like agony,

  • it just seems like a punishment

  • and people go down, and all they want to do is go up again.

  • They want to recover first, but then they want to go up again.

  • How does this view fit with our notion

  • of people sitting on the beach drinking mojitos?

  • It looks like people are either suckers for punishment.

  • Right? We want to punish ourselves.

  • Or, that what really motivates us is not relaxation,

  • it's not comfort, it's other things.

  • It's about achievement, it's about conquering,

  • it's about pursuing some goal, it's about arriving at some peak.

  • I actually became interested in this topic

  • when one of my ex-students came to talk to me.

  • His name was David, he left university a few years earlier

  • and he became a consultant, or some banker on Wall Street.

  • And he worked for a big bank

  • and he told me that for a few weeks he worked on a big presentation

  • for a merger that was going to happen.

  • He worked evenings, he worked overtime to create this beautiful presentation

  • with statistics and graph and description.

  • He was really proud of his work, and he really enjoyed it.

  • And then he sent it to his boss, and his boss said,

  • "David, great job, the merger is cancelled."

  • And he was just devastated!

  • And the interesting thing about this

  • is that he said that from a functional perspective everything was great.

  • Here he was, he did a good job, he enjoyed it while he was doing it,

  • his boss appreciated it, and he was certain

  • that he would get a raise when the time came

  • but at the same time he couldn't care now.

  • And he was working on another document now, and just couldn't care to the same degree.

  • Now the question is, what happened to him? What is it?

  • Everything functional was OK, but something was missing.

  • So to look at this I decided to do a couple of little experiments.

  • And the experiments we started with were about building Bionicles.

  • So, Bionicles are little Lego robots, with about forty pieces,

  • and you're going to build them.

  • And we got people to come to the Student Center

  • and we said, "Hey, why don't you build Legos for money?"

  • You want to build the first one? You can get three dollars for it.

  • After they finished the first one we asked, "Do you want to build another one?"

  • "This one you can get $2.70 for.

  • When you've finished this one, do you want another one, for $2.40?"

  • $2.10

  • $1.80

  • And so on at a a diminishing pay rate.

  • And people basically had to decide when they want to stop.

  • At what time, the money they were getting

  • from building Legos was not worth their time.

  • And we did this in one of two conditions.

  • The first one was just the way I described to you now.

  • People build one Lego after another, after another, after another

  • and when they finished building all these Legos

  • when they finished building each of them,

  • we took them, we put them under the desk

  • and we told them that when they finished the whole experiment

  • we would take them, we would break them back,

  • and we would put them back in the boxes for the next participant.

  • This is what we call the 'meaningful' condition.

  • Not a really big meaning, we are academics, but little meaning. (Laughter)

  • The second experiment, we called the Sisyphic condition.

  • And in this experiment people started building one Lego

  • and when they finished it we took it back from them

  • and said: "Do you want to build another one?"

  • And if they wanted to build another one we handed them the second one,

  • but as they were working on the second one,

  • we were taking apart the first one in front of their eyes.

  • And then if they wanted to build a third one, we would give them that one back

  • So it was a complete recycling.

  • And we called this the Sisyphic condition, after Sisyphus,

  • who pushed the same rock over the same hill over and over.

  • And we can ask ourselves how much of the demotivating

  • aspects of Sisyphus come from the fact

  • that he pushed the same rock on the same hill

  • versus if it was a different hill every time.

  • So building something, having it destroyed

  • in front of your eyes and building it again

  • seems kind of an essential element for being unmotivated

  • and here is what we got.

  • In a meaningful condition people build about eleven robots

  • and in the Sisyphus condition they build seven.

  • We also asked other people who did not participate

  • in the experiment to predict what would people do.

  • How much more would people build in a 'meaningful' condition than in a 'Sisyphic' condition.

  • And people predicted correctly but dramatically underestimated the effect.

  • People thought that the difference would be about one robot

  • but the difference was much, much larger.

  • So we all understand that meaning is important

  • we just dramatically underestimate how important this is.

  • And I will tell you that I recently went to give a talk at a big software company.

  • And this was a company where a group of people

  • worked for two years designing a particular product,

  • and they thought this was the best product for this company.

  • And after two years of working on it,

  • the week before I came, the CEO cancelled he project

  • and I've never seen a group of more demotivated people in my life.

  • And they all told me they felt like they were part of this Lego experiment.

  • They worked for a long time and something was just destroyed in front of them.

  • And I think basically their boss had the same mistake as our prediction experiment

  • where he understood that meaning is probably a little bit important,

  • but just didn't understand how big it is

  • and now he had a group of people who were completely demotivated, and so on.

  • Now, there was another interesting part of this experiment

  • which is if you look at the correlation between

  • how much people love Legos naturally and how much they persisted,

  • you would expect that people who love Lego would build a lot

  • and people who don't love Lego would build a little;

  • there would be some individual difference.

  • And indeed there [were] individual differences

  • In a meaningful condition people who loved Legos built more

  • and people who didn't love them didn't build as many.

  • In the Sisyphic condition the correlation was zero,

  • which tells me that we basically choked every inch of enjoyment

  • people had naturally from Legos.

  • People come with a natural appreciation for Legos, some people,

  • and we were basically able to crush that...

  • (Laughter)

  • So, the next experiment we wanted to find out

  • what even smaller differences could make.

  • So we gave people a sheet of paper with a lot of letters on it and we said,

  • "Look for two letters next to each other that are the same,"

  • it was a random set and we did the same thing.

  • We paid them more for the first sheet, less for the next sheet, and so on.

  • And we had three conditions.

  • In the first condition, every time you gave me a sheet, if I was the experimenter,

  • I would ask you to write your name on the top, I would look at it like this.

  • I would say "Aha!" and I would put it on the pile.

  • In the next condition you didn't have to write your name.

  • I would just take the sheet of paper and, without looking at it,

  • I would just put it on the big pile of paper;

  • no acknowledgement, just putting it down.

  • In the third condition, if you gave me a sheet of paper,

  • I immediately took it and shredded it. (Laughter)

  • And now the question is how much would people work in those three conditions.

  • And what I'm going to show you here is what is the minimum

  • amount of money people are willing to work for, right?

  • How long did it go, so low amounts of money mean that people enjoy it more.

  • So we got the replication on the first result.

  • In the acknowledged condition when you say,

  • "Aha!" people were willing to work up to $0.15 per page

  • really low wages.

  • In the shredded condition they wanted twice as much money

  • and the question is, what happens in the ignored condition?

  • Is the ignored condition like the shredded?

  • Is it like the acknowledged? Is it somewhere in the middle?

  • It turns out it was very similar to the shredded condition.

  • So if you really want to demotivate people shredding their work

  • is really good for that. (Laughter)

  • But it turns out that simply ignoring them

  • gets you a big part of the way, in fact, almost... (Laughter)

  • So this was one part of motivation,

  • it's about feeling meaning for what you are doing

  • and acknowledged and so on, and we mostly did this

  • by destroying people's motivation.

  • Let's think for a second about the other part,

  • that is how we can get people to be more motivated.

  • How we can get people to do more

  • and, the idea came to me here after going to IKEA

  • so I don't know about you, but I like IKEA but every time I get this furniture,

  • I find myself that it takes me much longer than I expected to build this

  • and the instructions seem confusing.

  • I often do a step and then have to backtrack

  • and when I have to guess something I think I guess wrong more than 50% of the time.

  • Lots of these things, and the thought is:

  • Is it that a result of this? Do I love my furniture more?

  • The fact that I have to build them, that I create them,

  • does that create a particular attachment between me and my furniture?

  • I call this the IKEA effect

  • And some evidence for this exists from cake mixes.

  • So when cake mixes came up in the fifties

  • to the surprise of the people who made up the cake mixes

  • they were not very popular

  • and the question is, why?

  • Pie crusts were popular, cookies were popular

  • all kinds of other ready mixes were popular, but not cakes.

  • And one of the theories was maybe people didn't have to do much for these cakes

  • maybe if you take a mix and add some water

  • put it in the oven and then make it

  • and someone says, "What a great cake!," you just can't feel good about it.

  • Maybe it was the fact that it didn't require

  • as much work that made cake mixes not as appealing.

  • This was known as the 'egg theory.'

  • And what they did to test it was, they took the eggs out of the cake mix.

  • All of a sudden the cake mix was the same,

  • you just had to add eggs and some milk to it.

  • What happened now? Cake mixes became much more popular.

  • Somehow having to put work into something makes it more appealing.

  • We decided to try this out,

  • so we gave people instructions to do origami

  • on the top you have the --

  • (Laughter)

  • -- on the top you have a list of what all the signs mean

  • and then you have a list of instruction of how to do origami

  • that is not that easy to do

  • and we asked people to do it.

  • And what happened? People created stuff

  • that didn't really look like what it was supposed to,

  • these were not origami experts.

  • But if you looked at how much people valued the origami

  • there were some auctions and people could bid for it, and so on.

  • It turns out that people who did not build the origami

  • thought it wasn't that exciting,

  • and people who built the origami thought it was just fantastic.

  • People who built the origami thought it was great.

  • But, moreover, people who built the origami

  • when we asked them to predict how much the other people valued this origami

  • they thought they would value them as much as they did.

  • So what happened is that the people who build the origami

  • not only thought it was wonderful,

  • they also thought that other people would view it their way.

  • Now we had another condition that was again going back to IKEA

  • we had people who got easy instructions

  • and for some people we hid the top part