The latest in the TED series: a quirky exploration of the mysteries behind human motivation, in business and relationships.
Ariely (Psychology and Behavioral Economics/Duke Univ.; The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves, 2012, etc.) was always fascinated with why we pursue goals, whether for financial remuneration or personal satisfaction. “We are the CEOs of our own lives….Whatever our official job descriptions, we are all part-time motivators,” writes the author, whose interest in such issues stems from tragedy: badly burned in an accident when he was young, he’s since wondered why some are more driven to rise above such circumstances. He recalls that “the devastating role that helplessness played in my own experience…made me more deeply appreciate the challenges of being badly injured, the complexity of recovery, and the ways that my experience had deeply changed me.” Today, Ariely documents psychological experiments performed at tech companies and universities, convincing him that humans incentivize themselves and others in consistent yet enigmatic ways. He argues that workplace initiatives—e.g., restrictions regarding employee cubicles—“crush our natural motivation.” Yet financial compensation is far from an automatic cure-all; though “almost all companies use some kind of bonus…little is known about how effective bonuses really are.” At a semiconductor factory, Ariely found a promised voucher for a pizza or praise from a supervisor provoked productivity more reliably than extra money. In nonoccupational contexts, he notes, we have a “deep attachment to our own ideas,” explaining the satisfaction found in creative pursuits. We are even motivated to control our destinies after death—see: the mummified nobility of China or Egypt. Ariely writes in an approachable, chipper style, but some readers may find his ambiguous findings unsatisfying, as when he writes, “it is impossible to come up with one simple set of motivational rules.”
A mostly provocative account of how inner turmoil drives us.