I have just finished Week 4 of the Ariely/ Duke University online course on Behavioural Economics (http://bit.ly/134WRDq) The last 6 days have been all about "Labour & Motivation" - particularly relevant for those of us in gainful employment. 

It was extremly interesting, if pretty hard work - maybe I'm just feeling the pain a little after four weeks of evening and weekend study; or perhaps the topic was chosen deliberately to test our desire and will mid-way through.

So: what did I learn? Here's the topline of what I can remember, in no particular order:

  • We attach higher value to things we make ourselves than they objectively would be worth. Ariely calls this the Lego effect.
  • If we have a sense of purpose and enjoy recognition at work, we work better - longer, faster, are more productive - than if we perceive our tasks as meaningless, not appreciated.
  • Acting in a pro-social manner - giving money, buying others gifts - makes us happier than when we spend on ourselves
  • When the nature of a relational contract in is changed, mixing social (unpaid) and paid elements (market driven) results in the relationship being characterised as a market contract - any altruistic motivation falls away.
  • Overly high incentives can result in choking - and a resulting drop in performance - for those involved in cognitive (as opposed to mechanical) tasks. Our ability to perform well drops when others are watching.

Curious as to what others took out as their own personal topline.

The overriding goal, it seems to me, was to demonstrate that money is not as important a behavioural motivator as we often think. Sometimes introducing money into a situation can have negative consequences.

The whole chapter struck me as almost idealistic - possibly even liberal-left leaning. Ariely challenges the bonus culture of Wall Street as misplaced, suggests Karl Marx as a more suitable economic thinker than Adam Smith for the current age of the knowledge worker.

More pragmatically: are there any take-outs for us as Market Researchers? Here's my thinking

1. Always get Someone to Check Your Thinking, Writing etc.

Behavioural Economics posits that we fall in love with things we've produced ourselves. This blinds us to their potential weaknesses. Whenever possible, we need to ask someone else for input, feedback, possible improvements. 

For MR this will be especially beneficial for slimming down a 150 page powerpoint deck - who is going to freely give their time to critique such a mass of data?

2. Set Ourselves Goals - however small

Work is always going to be a mixture of the inspirational, strategic and the frankly mundane, repetitive. Following on from the motivational insights posited by BE, we are seriously more engaged and motivated if we understand why we are doing something, what the goal is, and if we can identify task completion.

There are bound to be circumstances when we're not given goals or a sense of meaning by either our corporation or our line manager. I'd say that rather than waiting for the motivational Godot, we should place the onus on our own shoulders - set ourselves small goals, write them down when we've completed them.

This will give us - if BE is right - a higher sense of motivation and fulfilment.

3. Be Generous, Take Care to Praise.

Generosity, attentiveness to others, giving praise - all of these things easily fall by the wayside in a work environment, which can often be ridden by competitiveness, angst, caution. The virtuous loop suggested in Ariely's work - that by engaging in "pro-social" acts you feel happier yourself - is something worth checking out personally.

Finally, for those of us - myself included - engaged in Social Media blogging or tweeting, as well as those engaged in managing forums or content platforms, we should be mindful of the delicate relationship between the altruistic/personal and market-place/money-driven sensitivities. Ariely gives an example that suggests that any form of mixing the personal with market-place results in the whole relationship shifting to a commodity-style relationship, one driven by money.

To me this last pont  is particularly important. As an MR blogger, I write in the hope of creating engagement within the Market Research community, and publish on platforms which are (I presume) in part looking to generate revenue streams to cover their costs. I willingly provide free content. If I were to believe that what to me is valuable but social - my content - was to someone else simply part of a monetary transaction, I don't think it would have a positive impact on my motivations.

Curious, as ever, as to others' views.

* For those of you interested, here's the Required Reading list for Week 4: