[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[00:00:12.4] MB: Welcome to The Science of Success. I’m your host, Matt Bodnar. I’m an entrepreneur and investor in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’m obsessed with the mindset of success and the psychology of performance. I’ve read hundreds of books, conducted countless hours of research and study, and I am going to take you on a journey into the human mind and what makes peak performance tick, with the focus on always having our discussion rooted in psychological research and scientific fact, not opinion.
In this episode, we discuss one of the most interesting results ever found in the psychological research of education. Why pleasure maximization is a flawed model for human understanding. We go deep into a number of specific research examples, discuss the massive and counterintuitive difference between motivating top performers and motivating bottom performers, and much more with our incredible special guest, Dr. Dan Ariely. The Science of Success continues to grow with more than 600,000 downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries, hitting number one New and Noteworthy, and more.
A lot of our listeners are curious about how to organize and remember everything. I get tons of listener emails and comments asking me how to keep track of all the incredible knowledge I get from reading hundreds of books, interviewing amazing guests and experts, and listening to tons of different podcasts.
Because of that, we’ve created an awesome resource for you. You can get it completely free by texting the word “smarter” to the number 44222. It’s a guide we created called How to Organize and Remember Everything. Again, to get it, just text the word “smarter” to the number 44222, or you can go to scienceofsuccess.co and put in your email.
In our previous episode, we discussed how our guest went from being wildly unsuccessful, sleeping in a used van, into launching a massive brand. The power of simple gratitude during the
toughest challenges of our lives. The transformational super powers that can change your life, and the massive perspective shift you can gain from two simple words, with John Jacobs, the founder and chief creative optimist of Life is Good. If you want simple strategies to feel inspired and empowered, listen to that episode.
[0:02:22.5] MB: Today, we have one of my favorite authors and an incredible psychology thinker on the show. Dr. Dan Ariely. Dan is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and is the founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, and is also the cofounder of BEworks. Dan’s talks on TED have been watched over 7.8 million times. He’s the author of Predictably Irrational and the Upside of Irrationality, both of which have become New York Times bestsellers. He’s the author of the upcoming book Payoff: The Hidden Logic that Shapes our Motivations. Dan, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:02:58.6] DA: Lovely to join you.
[0:03:00.3] MB: We’re super excited to have you on here.
[0:03:02.3] DA: With these compliments you gave me in the beginning, I’m more and more excited, and I even though I know you give all your guests great compliments, I believe you, and I like you more now that you’ve given me such nice compliments.
[0:03:15.2] MB: It’s because I’ve read Predictably Irrational.
[0:03:16.6] DA: There you go.
[0:03:17.3] MB: For listeners who may not be familiar, tell us a little bit about your background?
[0:03:22.5] DA: In terms of kind of scientific life, it’s a strange introduction. I was badly burned when I was 18 and I spent- I was burned with about 70% of my body, and I spent about three years in hospital. Life in hospital gave me lots of insights about lots of things about life. I kind of put on to a bed for three years, just kind of observing life but not being part of it, and having
burns, and scars, and challenges after that.
Beyond kind of just being in the hospital, it made me think about all kinds of aspects of life, and I became interested in experimental science. I became interested in kind of- a questioning and experimenting with our beliefs about all kinds of things in life. About placebos, and about the ways to remove bandages from burn patients, and the question of meaning, and the question of what gets us to continue.
When I started doing experiments, I discovered there’s a way to find out what’s really going on. Most of life, we have intuitions. Especially if you think about the workplace. Most of the things we know are not based on science. It’s very hard to do experiments about what really motivates people, and so because of that, we just function based on our intuitions. We have beliefs about them, but if our intuitions are wrong, maybe we’re setting up wrong incentives for ourselves, for other- we’re setting up wrong environment systems and so on.
I became interested in not just in unnecessary misery in hospital, but all kinds of ways in which we have wrong intuitions about the world. Out of good intentions, we’re actually setting up things in the wrong way, and trying to figure out what actually are the forces that change our behavior, and how can we structure the world in a way that is more compatible with our human nature.
[0:05:14.8] MB: That dovetails really nicely into the next question I had. Tell me a little bit about the complexity of motivation?
[0:05:22.5] DA: We think that people have kind of a pleasure principle, and we think people are just trying to maximize pleasure. That’s kind of one thought, and then we have another thought that says work is all about money, and all we need to do is to reengineer the payment system. It is shocking how much time people spend on trying to figure out exact bonuses, and how to pay people. There is a company in North Carolina recently that I met, that they have a 16-point rating system for employees, and then they give bonuses that are around $3,000 based on this point system. What happened is that somebody that gets 12.25 feels much worse compared to somebody who gets 12.5. The difference in money is very small, but they’re putting so much emphasis on it that people are just really miserable.
The two models people have for human life are trying to maximize pleasure, and then that work is unpleasant. That we don’t like work, and all we’re doing it for the money, but the people who we work for basically are trying to reengineer our lives so that we will work as hard as they want us to work. Like rats in the maze, they put money on our path. We just try to maximize money, and as we try to maximize money, we will do whatever they want us to do. Both of those things are basically wrong.
The first thing about pleasure is- actually, let me ask you. Think about your own life, and think about what are the kind of things that you’re most interested in, or most proud of, or that are representing kind of things that you are- you really want to accomplish. You have some examples?
[0:07:12.0] MB: Me personally?
[0:07:13.1] DA: Yeah.
[0:07:13.5] MB: I mean, we could talk about this podcast as a great example of something that is, for me, very mission driven, and something that I’m really passionate about, and kind of sprung totally by accident, and I’ve really enjoyed doing it.
[0:07:27.6] DA: Okay, let’s take this podcast and you’re saying that you’re enjoying it. Now this joy of doing it, my guess is that there are very few times where you’re doing the podcast and just burst out laughing. If we just thought about pleasure maximizing, you would do things like sitting on the beach, drinking mojitos, or watching some sitcom. That’s how we think about pleasure, getting a massage, or doing something like that.
What you actually choose to do for this podcast is to do things that you wouldn’t describe as pleasure from the outside, right? If an alien came and looked at how you work for this podcast, how you read, how you prepare, try to schedule different people, waking up early, going to sleep late, an alien would not say this is somebody who is just enjoying every moment.
It’s because the joy that you’re getting is not the momentary joy that you would get from drinking beer or watching a sitcom, it’s a different kind of a joy. It’s a joy, and you mentioned the word
purpose. It’s a word- it’s a joy that comes from a feeling that you’re doing something useful. This usefulness is really interesting. It’s not about you, it’s about the fact that other people get to listen, and get to think differently, and maybe get to do something differently, and you’re kind of getting a joy by thinking that you’re doing something to help other people do something in a better way.
All of those things don’t fit with the pleasure maximizing rule, because what you’re really maximizing is something very different in life. You’re maximizing a sense of meaning and a sense of control. You’re feeling your creating, you’re feeling you’re probably getting better over time, you’re improving, you’re feeling that you’re having an impact on other people and so on.
That’s the first thing that we need to recognize is that pleasure is a really complex thing. The most extreme example for this is- one of the most extreme examples is mountain climbing. When you read books of people who climb mountains, you would think they describe the thing that they like, but you know what? It’s just shocking. Because all these books describe nothing but pain. It is difficult, and painful, and frostbite, and injuries, and of course it’s a very dangerous sport as well.
You read those descriptions and you would think, my goodness, these people made a mistake. They will go up to the top of the mountain, and they would recognize that this was a huge mistake with all the pain, and misery, and frostbite, and they will go down and they will say never again. You know what? They go down and then they do it again. Because it’s not just about pleasure as defined by momentary enjoyment, it’s about progress, and conquering, and meaning, and so on.
That’s the first thing that we don’t understand correctly, what are we trying to maximize. Yes, pleasure and joy are part of the stuff that we try to maximize, but it’s certainly not all of it. Then the second thing is about payment.
People run companies, and they have all kinds of rules about how the divide the money, and how they pay people, and we have, of course, overtime, and we have benefits, and we have all kinds of things like that. People don’t understand how those things work. I’ll give you one example. This is an experiment, we did with a big hotel chain. This was with their call center, okay?
These are people on the phone, they make people call them, they try to settle disagreements, they try to sell people hotel rooms, all kinds of things like that. What’s nice from an experimental perspective is that people in call centers, you can measure what they do, you can measure what the call is about, you can measure how fast they were, you can measure how effective they are, you can measure how productive they are.
We have a measure of productivity, and then they get the bonus of about a third of their salary is based on how good they perform. Okay, that’s the setup. Now, we got data from this company and we looked at the data, and what we found was that it was the same people, basically almost 100%, the same people get the big bonuses every time.
Matt, think about it for yourself for a second and say okay, if it’s the same people who get the big bonuses every time, why is it? What is causing some people to get bonuses and some not? What will be some hypothesis that you would come up with? Like what could be the cause for this?
[0:11:57.0] MB: It may be incorrect, but maybe the most straight forward hypothesis would be the idea that the best performers are getting the biggest bonuses.
[0:12:04.4] DA: Okay, that’s one theory, right? The good people are getting bonuses, the bad people are not. That’s great. What else could it be?
[0:12:11.8] MB: That the people who have sort of befriended the management the best get the best bonuses?
[0:12:16.8] DA: Okay, some kind of nepotism, yeah, that’s another possibility. You could also think that some people love money and some people don’t, and the people who love money would be more motivated, and people who don’t care so much about money wouldn’t work so much. You could also think that it’s random. That the first time people show up, they either randomly get the bonuses or not, and the people who get the bonuses learn how much- how wonderful they are, and they really want to keep them, so it changes their motivation and people who never get the bonus don’t care and basically never learn how wonderful bonuses are.
Anyway, there’s lots of different theories that you can explain it. We asked that company for them to give us their data every weekend for us to analyze it, and for us to determine who will get their bonuses using our special algorithms. What kind of algorithms do you think we tried?
[0:13:07.6] MB: I have no idea.
[0:13:09.1] DA: We tried random. Okay now, just to be clear, we didn’t tell people that they were getting paid based on random algorithms, but you see, if you have a particular algorithm to determine bonuses, and you always use that algorithm, you can’t test what will happen if you use the different algorithm. We decide to do it randomly, and then we could compare what happened in all kinds of cases. We ran this experiment for six months, and we got the data every weekend. We calculated random bonuses, people got their bonuses on Monday. They were announced, and we went on for a while.
We did lots and lots of analysis on this data, but one of the things we looked at was to see, when did the company have a higher return on investment? When they rewarded the top employees, or the bottom employees? What do you think?
[0:14:02.3] MB: I mean, it would seem like maybe rewarding the highest- the top employees would have the best bonus, but perhaps the counterintuitive answer is that rewarding the lowest performers gave the biggest overall boost.
[0:14:13.7] DA: That’s right. You know, given that you’re talking to me, you probably expect that it will be some counterintuitive result, but that’s exactly what we found. We found that the top employees did not change their performance when the bonuses went away, whereas the bottom employees improved their performance.
Now, what’s happening here? For a bonus to work, you need two things. You need for people to want the bonus, and then you need for them to be able to act on their desire to improve their performance. What happened was at the top employees were kind of already at the top of their game, right? They were just- some people know how to talk on the phone, some people have figured out how to work well, some people, whatever the skills needed, some people just have it. Whether they acquired it or they had it in the beginning, and it doesn’t matter if they get the bonus or not.
I’m a university professor, if you paid me more or less, would I teach differently? I don’t even know, right? If you told me, “There’s a bonus coming up, do something differently.”, what would I do differently? I can drink more coffee, I can try to stay more hours awake, I can try and- but I don’t have a lot of ability to change my teaching. I’m already teaching to the best of my ability, what could I do differently? Whereas the people on the bottom part, they actually had a way to improve their performance, right? Those are people that could learn how to do things differently, they could try harder.
There was all kinds of things that they could- by the way, two things about this. The first thing is just to realize, sometimes when we do field experiments, our recommendations come directly from the field experiments. In this case, we did not recommend to anybody to start paying people randomly. In fact, paying people randomly is incredibly demotivating; it’s a terrible idea. We also didn’t recommend to that company to stop paying the top employees better, because you also want to retain them.
What we told them is to say look, these top employees are just good solid performers. Bonuses don’t change their behavior. Why don’t you instead give them a promotion, and give them a higher fixed salary. They’ll end up getting the same amount of money, but let’s not call it a bonus. A bonus is something that also increase worry. It’s harder to plan on what you’re going to get. Certainty is lower. Why don’t you just give it to them, because it’s not changing their productivity. Give it to them in a fixed salary, they will be much better for it, and then you can take the bonuses and give it to the other people that actually need it as a role for motivation.
That’s the first thing. The bigger point though, is that when we think about motivation, a lot of people use money as a hammer. It’s a very blunt tool, right? You can always say, “Oh, people don’t perform, let’s just change their bonuses, or give them points, or do something like this”. The problem is it’s very blunt tool, and it’s much better to actually go first and analyze what is the real barrier to good performance.
When you understand what’s the barrier for good performance, then you can think about what to do. I’ll tell you one other story about this. At some point, there was a government of a different country, not of the US, that asked me to come and help them in creating incentives for teachers in schools. The Ministry of Finance in this country had an idea, and their idea was to take the 10% best teachers in every school and give them a bonus.
Take the 10% of best teachers, and forget for a second how you determine it, let’s just assume that there’s a good way to determine it, and the principle will determine it, and those 10% of the people would get a bonus. That was their approach to try and improve the quality of education in the school. When you think about it, at first blush, it sounds reasonable. But then you have to say okay, what is the theory that would suggest that this is a good solution?
You basically have to say the following, you have to say “Teachers really want money. They’re not doing their best right now, because we’re not paying them enough. They would do their best if we only had the bonus.” That’s kind of assumption number one. Teachers are lazy, and they want money, and we need to put more money in so they would be more interested in working hard.
Then the second thing you need to say is that all teachers will think that they could get the bonus. Because if only the top 10%, or only the top 20% think they could get the bonus, the rest of the people would not try harder. Everybody needs to believe that they could get the bonus, and not just on year one, but over time. You can ask yourself, how realistic are those assumptions?
Let me tell you, this is just assumptions, here is something about data. One of the most interesting results ever in education was a result where they showed that one of the best ways to improve performance in schools is to give the top teachers time to teach the not so good teachers. Now think about that. What does that mean in terms of a model for performance? It’s not about not wanting, it’s not about not knowing. That model basically says, you know, some teachers have figured it out and some haven’t. The ones that haven’t figured it out; it’s not because they’re lazy, it’s not because they’re not interested. It’s because it’s very hard to figure out how to teach.
The feedback is random, sarcastic, delayed, we have very different mix of students, it’s hard to learn how to do it well. Let’s take the people who have kind of figured it out, and let them get to help, to help the other kids. By the way, this other country where the Ministry of Finance wants to give the top 10% of the teacher’s bonuses, what would happen if they did that? I don’t think they would improve the quality of education, but the one thing they would do is they would eliminate any interest from the good teachers to help the not so good teachers.
Because now, they would try to basically keep their- it will become a competitive sport, rather than a collaborative endeavor. The point is that when we pay people, it’s not just simple paying, but we need to think more broadly about what is really holding people back. Then we need to think about what’s the right compensation for that. Is it money, is it knowledge, is it a title? Is it the feeling of connection, is it a sense of progress, what is it?
The science of motivation is actually incredibly interesting, because if you wrote the motivation equation, and you wrote a big M on the left, and you said equal, and then you write money of course is one of the things that motivates people, and maybe happiness. Then there’s a long list of things, and over time, we’re discovering more and more about the pride of creation, and the feeling of progress, and all of those elements that make our life so wonderful.
[0:21:21.9] MB: I love that concept, and the idea that it’s much better to sort of analyze and focus on removing the barriers to good performance, as supposed to just adding additional incentives.
[0:21:32.1] DA: Yeah, it’s easier, right? It’s easier to look- I mean, adding performances, adding motivation is good as well, but removing the things that are harming people seem like the first easy step to do.
[0:21:46.3] MB: I think the story of the teachers really drives that point home very concretely.
[0:21:50.5] DA: Yeah. By the way, with the No Child Left Behind, one of the things we found in many experiments that I describe in Predictably Irrational, but also in Payoff, is this thing about social norm and market norms. The finding there was that sometimes we can add money and actually detract from the motivation. One way to think about it is imagine I asked you to do me a favor, asked you to help me change the tire on my car for example.
How likely would you be to do it? Condition and another setup is I ask you to help me change the tire on my car, and I said I’ll pay you $5 for it. What will happen now to your motivation? When we do experiments like this, we find that motivation actually goes down. When we get people to help us move sofas, or do boring things, or changing tires, we find that people are more willing to do it when we don’t pay them. When we offer a small amount of money, it actually decreases human motivation. The reason it decreases motivation is that when you just help somebody, you say, “I’m a good person.”
When you get $5, you don’t get the I’m a good person in the same way, the I’m the good person feeling goes away. Instead, you get the feeling this is a job, and you say to yourself, “I don’t like working for $5, that’s under valuing my time”. This is what’s called crowding out. Where you can add motivation to the motivation mix, but actually decrease the overall motivation. Sadly, this is one of the things we’ve done in the US with the No Child Left Behind policy.
Again, think about teachers. Teachers join this profession not because they’re trying to maximize their financial wellbeing. If somebody chose that profession to maximize their financial wellbeing, you wouldn’t let them teach your kids, because they clearly can’t calculate anything. They have a sense of mission, and they have a sense of contribution, and all kinds of other things like that. All of the sudden you tell them, by the way, if the kids in your class do very well, we’ll give you $400 additional at the end of the year, and if they don’t do well, we’ll take some things away from the school. All of those things are basically small potatoes, right?
On the individual level, and what happens, all of the sudden teachers are saying, “Really? That’s what I’m worth? This is all that you’re interested in? That’s what we’re all about?” As a consequence, they lose much of their motivation. Another thing, by the way, that happened with the No Child Left Behind policy is the loss of autonomy.
Imagine a teacher that wants to teach different kids differently. Wants to teach different classes differently, and realizes that maybe this is a better time for math, and maybe we’ll postpone English a little bit, or do something else. Now, rather than having autonomy of what to do, they are kind of in a dictatorial positioning when they tell them exactly what they need to teach every day. They’re becoming automatons who are just kind of executing. How motivating is this? It’s terrible.
Actually, I’m sorry, this is going to be a really sad episode, but I recently looked a little bit at physicians. You know that every year in the US, we have about 400 physicians who commit suicide? Physicians are reporting that the quality of their life is dramatically decreasing all the time. Why?
Because we take people who are committed to healing, and on one hand we trust them with sharp knives, and cutting our bodies open, but on the other hand, we don’t trust them with not filling paper work correctly, or overcharging us, all kinds of things. We’re drowning them in paper work and bureaucracy. We’re telling them that they can only see patients for 12 minutes, or 15 minutes, and we’re basically making them work like in a factory of patients where they have no judgment. There’s lots of medications that they want to prescribe, but the insurance company is not letting them. Or there are treatments that they wanted to give, but the procedure of doing so and getting permission is too cumbersome.
We’re talking away basically their autonomy, and we’re making them little medical robots, and we say that this is the constraint of your work. The more we constrain teachers, and doctors, and so on, the less joy they can find in the work. Of course, people who have the ability either leave, and the people who don’t leave are just very unhappy.
[0:26:38.2] MB: In the context of replacing social norms of the market norms, I think it’s Predictably Irrational where you tell the story of the daycare facility?
[0:26:47.0] DA: Yes.
[0:26:47.8] MB: Could you share that anecdote briefly?
[0:26:50.7] DA: Yeah, this was a story- it’s an experiment. Generally, what happens if you have kids, you know that you pick up your kids late from time to time, and you get a bad look from the teacher or the daycare center, and you feel guilty, and you say sorry, and you try very hard not to feel this bad again.
In this particular daycare center, they decide to- with the help of some economists, they decided to add a fine. If you’re late, we’ll charge you $5 per hour. What happened? People started being really late. Why? Because imagine it’s 3:00 in the afternoon, and you have to pick up your kid at 3:30, and before the fine was introduced, guilt would kind of get you to go there on time. But after they just say it’s $5 an hour, people said, “It’s $5 an hour, they can keep my kids for two hours”, right? It’s just babysitting. What happened was that guilt went away, and money was just a fine payment.
Now, if they charge $100, right? What would happen? People would be on time, but they would also take their kids out of the daycare, because from time to time they would miss it anyway, and the fine will be too much. People will get really pissed off. What happened here was that the fine did not add to the feeling of feeling bad, it replaced it. There was another thing with that study is that when they took the fine away, you would say would guilt come back?
The answer was not until the following year. Once you take a social relationship that is based on respect, and guilt, and fear of reciprocity, and so on, and you make it into a transactional relationship in which I pay you by the hour, it’s hard to change the relationship back. It’s hard to go back into a relationship of caring, and mutual benefits, and long term vision, and so on.
[0:28:48.3] MB: You talked earlier about the idea of joy, and I want to dig in a little bit more on that. Tell me about sort of why we have such a deep attachment to some of our own ideas, and how we sort of source joy?
[0:29:01.7] DA: Yup, this is something we called the IKEA effect, after the Swedish furniture manufacturer. One of the things we kind of first observed in our own behavior was that- this was in my case, I have a chest of drawers for my kids that took me a really long time to assemble. The instructions were not very clear, I got parts in the wrong way, but even though it was many years ago, I still carry it with me when I move around the country. Not only that, I look at that piece of furniture in a slightly more favorable way than my other pieces of furniture, like we spent an afternoon together creating it.
The thought that we started- Mike Norton, Daniel Kahneman, and I started looking at was- does the fact that you put more effort into something actually get you to love it more? And the answer is yes. We did experiments with Lego, and Bionicles, and we did it with origami. What we found is that the more effort you put into something, and the less clear the instructions are, and the more complex it is, you might not enjoy the processes much, but you end up liking the outcome more.
Think about something, like a home cooked meal compared to one in which somebody delivers it. Yes, it’s more painful, and more difficult, and you put more effort into it, but the joy of it is higher at the end. People don’t understand this. This is not something we have a good intuition about. It’s not as if you say, “I understand if I’ll assemble this myself, I’ll like it more at the end” Then the other interesting thing is people don’t understand that other people don’t look at their own creation from the same perspective.
It’s not as if I create something, and I love it because I put so much effort into it, like one of my books, and then I think that everybody else should see how wonderful they are in the same way that I do. We kind of blinded to other people’s motivation, or their perspective. We think that everybody will see things in the same way that we do, but of course, other people see things from their own perspective and not from ours.
The IKEA effect exists. We fall in love with what we do, we don’t understand that other people don’t see things in the same way. It’s an interesting force, because it’s a good force, and it’s a not so good force. It’s a good force because by loving what we do, we can spend many hours doing what we do, right? I do research in social science, we have economics, and I love what I do. It causes me to spend many hours in the office, and I work hard, and I care about what I do. It’s the joy of loving what I do is by doing it, I love it more, and it creates a virtuous cycle.
The potential downside is that we get blinded to reality. I think that’s what happens to a lot of startups, where people- not just startups, but in startups it’s kind of a good example, is people have an idea, they fall in love with their idea, they think that everybody else would love their ideas, they start working on it, they get some evidence that this is not really that popular with other people, that other people don’t love it as much as they do. But they are so strong in their beliefs of how wonderful it is that they reject other people’s…
They reject the data, and then sometimes they manage to- sometimes they burn all their money in the process and not get to it. Falling in love with our ideas, and our labor, and what we do is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it gets us to people and being motivated, it’s a curse because it gets us to be blinded to sometimes reality.
[0:33:00.7] MB: I loved the origami story in the book. I thought that was one of my favorite examples.
[0:33:05.6] DA: Yeah, have you ever played with origami?
[0:33:07.5] MB: No, I’m horribly untalented at that.
[0:33:10.4] DA: Yeah, you know what? It turns out it doesn’t matter because people in our experiments created terrible origami and nevertheless, they loved them very much. I think there is something about creating something. Here’s another thing. Matt, how old are you?
[0:33:27.2] MB: 29.
[0:33:28.2] DA: 29. You grew up kind of in the digital world. Think about things in your life and think about what have you created from start to finish, right? This is not a test, and it’s not blaming, but you know, people used to do more things. Like when I was a kid, we went to study pottery. We did woodwork. I’m almost 50, and we did all kinds of things, and then when we learned how to program, we wrote stupid little programs that did very silly things, or right now they look trivial, but we wrote the whole program. I remember that my first program that did addition.
I wrote the whole thing. As we move forward in life, we don’t create many things ourselves. This podcast is your creation, right? Of course, you get help from software, and all kinds of other things, but it’s your creation, and it’s yours from end to end. When I write a book, it’s from cover to cover. Yes, lots of people helped, but it’s my book. In life in general, we’re having less and less of an opportunity to create something ourselves from scratch, and when we do, we also have every easy substitutions. Instead of making a meal, we can buy something readymade. Instead of creating furniture, we can get something from IKEA.
I think something is missing. I think that there is kind of a connection to the fruit of our labor that we’re missing, and even in software, right? When was the last time somebody could write the whole piece of software by themselves? No, now people become- software is so amazing, and so complex, and has so many libraries, and everybody’s writing a library, or part of a library, or part of the process.
It’s wonderful; it also doesn’t give people the full feeling that there is something that is just theirs. I think that the only area in life that is still kind of about an individual creation is probably art. Almost everything in art is about one person doing everything from start. Start to finish. Whereas in most other things, we just do parts of things rather than the whole thing.
[0:36:02.1] MB: You know it’s funny, because I definitely am kind of a digital native, and grew up with a lot of that, but when I was a very young child, the internet really wasn’t around. Legos are one of my favorite things, and I still sort of think back about that, and to some degree, almost crave that desire to construct and build all kinds of unique creations. I know you talk about Legos in the book as well.
[0:36:25.2] DA: Yeah, Legos are great, I mean, it does- somebody gives you the basic building blocks and you do the exact thing you want. Not exactly but you know, you try to do something, I agree with you that there’s something about craving those experiences of feeling that you have done something. I do Legos with my kids from time to time. When you work with just Legos, it’s a very different feeling that when you build a set with instructions.
When you have the Star Wars set of something and you have these instructions, the instructions are very complex, and you have some joy, because the piece you’re creating is beautiful, and the instructions, you manage to overcome the challenges of understanding the instructions. It does have some other joy to it.
It doesn’t feel that you’ve created it in the same way. You’ve kind of followed the instruction that somebody else gave you. Yes, very successfully, but it doesn’t feel that it’s yours in the same way. Think about kind of the hesitation before you break something apart, or you desire to build a piece of Lego, and keep it untouched for a while. When you do something from a set, you finished it. It’s over, you don’t want to keep it. But when you do something without instruction that is more you, now taking it apart is a bit more painful. You’re taking something away from yourself while doing so. It’s not just breaking a piece of Lego.
[0:37:57.5] MB: Changing gears slightly, but really kind of also getting into the meat of this to some degree, we talked about money and pleasure were not great models to sort of understand the concept of motivation. What are some of the deeper, more intangible emotional forces that do underpin motivation?
[0:38:15.7] DA: It’s not that money is not part of it. It is part of it, and it’s not as if joy is not part of it, but it is part of it. It’s just not the whole picture. There’s lots of things about motivation, and you could just kind of think about your own experiences to try to figure out what are some of the elements. Here is another example. I was in San Francisco not too long ago, and I met with a very nice startup, and after talking about what they were doing - which was very interesting - I asked them, how late do they stay in the office? They told me that the night before they stayed until 1:00 AM, and we talked about that.
Here is what happened. One of the people in the team needed to do something for a deadline, and they were the only people on the team that needed to stay until late. Everybody else in the team stayed with them. I talked to them and I said, “Look, how was the phone call when you called and told your significant other that you’re going to stay late in the office?” They said it was no problem, they said they called their significant other and they said, “You know, Hannah is behind the project, needs to stay over until late, and I’m staying with her to help her finish that project.”
Then I asked them, “What would happen if it was your project that was late, and you had to stay late in the office. How would your significant other react to that?” And they all said that the significant other would have said something like, “This is terrible, you should have started on this early, this is unacceptable and you can’t do this.”
Here was a case where for their own project, they couldn’t have stayed late but staying late for a friend was more justified, in their own eyes, and their significant other’s eyes.
This is one examples that says that our caring about work is often about caring about the people that we work with. When we care more about the people that we work with, through them, we care more about work as well. Actually, I’ll give you one more story about this in a different domain. I do lots of experiments on dishonesty, where I tempt people to steal money from me,and I see how much money they steal, and under what conditions.
In one type of experiment we gave people a die. It’s a six-sided die, and we get people to roll the die, and we say, “Look, roll the die, and we’ll pay you whatever it comes up on. If it comes up on six, we’ll give you $6, $5, and so on.” We tell them, “You can get paid based on the top side of the die or the bottom. Top or bottom. You decide, but don’t tell us.” You get the dye, and I say, “Please think top or bottom”, you think your top or bottom, you roll the die, and let’s say it came up with five on the bottom and two on the top.
Now I say, “Okay, what did you pick?” Now, if you picked bottom, you say bottom, and you get $5. If you pick top, you have a dilemma. You say the truth, top, and get $2, or you change your mind, you say bottom, and you get $5. People do this 20 times, and every time they think to themselves top or bottom, they roll the die, they write down what it came up with, and then they say what they had chosen and so on.
What we find when people do this 20 times is that people are extra lucky. Of course, I don’t mean lucky, I mean that people are cheating. Not cheating a lot, but cheating a little bit. Now, in this one experiment, we got people to sit next to their significant other. Matt, you’re married right?
[0:41:49.4] MB: I am.
[0:41:50.5] DA: Okay, imagine that you’re rolling the die, and you’re writing down what the die came up and then what you chose, and your significant other is sitting right next to you. Your significant other doesn’t know what’s going on in your brain, if you chose up or down, but they see if you’re extra lucky or not. What do you think would happen? Would you cheat more, the same, less if they sit next to you?
[0:42:12.9] MB: I would assume people definitely cheat less.
[0:42:14.1] DA: That’s what most people assume, but what we found in the experiment is people cheat more. Why do they cheat more? Let me tell you about another experiment, then I’ll come back to this. In other experiment, we do the same thing, but people don’t make the money for themselves. In one condition the money goes to them, in a second condition, they pick a charity and all the money they make go to that charity.
What happened when the money goes to charity? People cheat more. But in that experiment, we also connected people to a lie detector, and we measured how good is the lie detector detecting dishonesty. When people lie for themselves, the lie detector detect this honesty quite well. Not perfectly, but quite well. When people lie for a charity, the lie detector doesn’t work. People cheat more but the lie detector doesn’t work. Why?
Because the lie detector works on the tension. I feel I want more money, but I feel about it, I want more money, but I feel bad about it. If the money goes to charity, we don’t feel bad about it. All of a sudden we feel good. This is, by the way, why politicians feel so comfortable lying so much, because they can convince themselves that it’s for our good, the good of the country.
Now, let’s go back to this experiment, you sit there, your significant other is sitting next to you. All of the sudden you think to yourself, you don’t think it consciously, but you’re basically saying, “I’m not just cheating for myself, I’m cheating for the whole family”, and with that, people become more free to cheat, and this is not just about the significant other. It’s also about for the good of the company, for people who work with you, all kinds of things like this is just a science.
All of this is to say that one of the many forces that motivate us is the caring we have for the company. That force works for good because we care more, it also sometimes have negative effect because we might cheat some more, and the caring for the people that we work with. Of course you know, we can go on and on about all kinds of other forces, but these are just some examples for the things that end up mattering a lot for our motivation.
[0:44:28.1] MB: One other concept that I loved from Payoff was the idea of symbolic immortality. Could you talk briefly about that concept?
[0:44:34.2] DA: Sure. At some point, you die, and some people believe in the afterlife and let’s forget about those people for now. Let’s think about just the people who don’t believe in the afterlife. The question is, do people- even if they’re going to die, and they don’t believe that there’s anything after death, do they still care about how people would remember them, and do they still care about their inheritance, and- not financial, but their contribution and their impact.
We find that the answer is absolutely yes. In fact, that people who believe in the afterlife and don’t believe in the afterlife don’t- it doesn’t matter to what kind of things people are willing to do to be remembered in a good way. We’ve looked at things like funerals, and how people spend on that. We’ve looked at things like wills, and how people setup their wills.
For example, people are trying in their wills to settle scores and to make amends. You’re dead already, why is it important, and why don’t you do it when you’re still alive? The afterlife- the fact that even after people die, we still care about our reputation, and how people think about us, and so on. I think it’s kind of the extreme case showing how not everything is about material goods, because you know, no matter what theory you have about the afterlife, whatever material goods you have don’t really matter once you die.
The fact that we care about how people remember us, think about us, what scores we have, what we’ve left, what will happen with our possessions. All of those, it’s an indicator of the kind of things that get us to be motivated. Not just as we get closer to death or dead, but throughout our lives.
[0:46:32.3] MB: Well Dan, I absolutely loved the book Payoff, and I know that listeners are really going to enjoy it. There are so many things that we didn’t get to talk about today from the book that I really enjoyed. I’m curious, where can people find you and the book online?
[0:46:46.9] DA: I have a website, danariely.com, and the book should be on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, and all the usual suspects, and then on my website I have other information and videos, and so on.
[0:47:05.6] MB: Awesome. Again, the book is called Payoff: The Hidden Logic that Shapes our Motivations. Dan, thanks again, we loved having you on the Science of Success.
[0:47:13.8] DA: Thanks to you and it was great and looking forward to continuing this another time.
[0:47:19.3] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. Listeners like you are why we do this podcast. The emails and stories we receive from listeners around the globe bring us joy and fuel our mission to unleash human potential. I love hearing from listeners. If you wanna reach out, share your story, or just say hi, shoot me an email. My email is email@example.com. I would love to hear from you, and I read and respond to every listener email.
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