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Book Review: Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely
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Book Review: Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely’s TED Talks have been viewed nearly eight million times, and his books Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality were both New York Times bestsellers. Like another famous TED Talker, Daniel Pink, Ariely’s domain of expertise is human motivation: what makes us want to do the things we do, and what makes us feel good about having done them? The answer is not money, contrary to common impulse.

Ariely’s latest, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations (Simon & Schuster / TED, 2016) is a worthwhile introduction to the author’s work, a smart but digestible 128 pages presenting research and narrative about the seeming contradictions between what we say motivates us and what actually motivates us. External rewards, such as pay raises, aren’t nearly as compelling as we keep thinking “human nature” demands.

There are only four decent-sized chapters, so Ariely doesn’t barrage us with multiple examples and deeper suppositions. Instead, he gives us just enough to take a critical look at the things we do to motivate ourselves and others, and the strong (and puzzlingly easy) ways we often demotivate ourselves and others. Perhaps it seems obvious our deepest motivations come from satisfying a sense of meaning, whether it’s the meaning of creating something or the meaning of making some kind of difference. Senses of ownership, accomplishment, and purpose are parts of this concept.

In contrast, we demotivate when we “ignore, criticize, disregard, or destroy the work of others,” and when we remove the sense of connection between others and the larger purpose which they hope to serve—most often other people, in some workable understanding of that term.

Payoff, like other books about what drives us, is marketed as a business book, and one can see why. In one example exploring the power of money as motivation, the author cites a study he and some colleagues did with employees at Intel. Monetary bonuses did have the predicted effects on increased productivity, but the larger the bonuses, the less productive subjects were. Increased stakes led to more stress and more of a fear that harder work was unlikely to result in beating competing workers for the big bonuses. When bonuses weren’t so big, they spiked productivity at first, but productivity slid backward over time, a phenomenon that’s been examined by other experts on the subject matter. The problem with extrinsic rewards is that they must get bigger and bigger in order to achieve the same results. This is not a sustainable model.

The best thing about Ariely’s book, as interesting as it is, is really not the originality of the information, as some of it will sound familiar to those who follow popular writers of such material. It’s really the shortness of the book and the accessible way it presents the content. Four chapters can be read in 90 minutes, and the manager hoping to get his or her team to read something discussion-worthy should have very little blowback and a reasonable expectation that the assigned reading will be done when the assignment is as readable and brief as Payoff.

Recommended for those who’d like an extended look at what can only be hinted at in an 18-minute video on YouTube, but may not have the fortitude to get through a 350-page tome.

 

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Book Review: Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely - Executive Leadership Articles

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