In a series of experiments, they have demonstrated that people attach greater value to things they built than if the very same product was built by someone else. And in new experiments published recently, they've discovered why it happens: Building your own stuff boosts your feelings of pride and competence, and also signals to others that you are competent.
If you're a manager, an employer or even a teacher, this is huge.
Gold star rewards place the recognition above accomplishment, meaning the product - a test, a project, etc - will be done in a manner that secures the reward. Cash incentives work the same way - you're going to produce the work you think will encourage your employer/boss/manager to give you an external reward. That means trying to produce a copy of the mental model communicated, however effectively, by the boss. Here's where the problem begins - few bosses are Steve Jobs.
Seriously, though, Mochon's experiments actually have serious big-picture implications. The world over, companies and managers fall in love with their own ideas — and reject better ideas from the outside because they were not designed in-house.
When managers start to assume a "we're smart, they're dumb" attitude, they are effectively closing themselves off from external, potentially innovative ideas. This process worsens under pressures like those facing our economy today. Ironically, it's when the old approaches are demonstrably not working (creating social stresses like we're facing on multiple fronts now) that we defer to confidence and simplicity, rejecting the bold solutions that can shift us into a new direction. When the people at the top assume they're the only ones not the problem, they reject ideas they don't get and reward those they do, they are essentially discouraging innovative solutions - because their people recognize there's no reward to be had for thinking outside the box. Sound familiar?
It's all well and good for the 1% to say they admire those with the tenacity to push their ideas forward no matter the obstacles, but that's assuming great ideas and pig-headed resolve are linked at the hip, which they aren't. In fact, some of the brightest thinkers tend to be those riddled with self-doubt. Some of the most promising ideas of today are being developed right now by people who have put accomplishment ahead of wealth, but as such aren't always connecting with the capital holders at the top.
As Dan Pink has pointed out, we're motivating our cognitive labour in the wrong way to achieve the results we seek. It's counter-intuitive, perhaps, but we'd be delusional not to see this. If we want to grow our social potential in the Knowledge Economy, we need to change the way we think about incentives. If you want your employees to build widgets, by all means, offer more money. If you're hoping your employees will add value, however, you need to free them from basic concerns so that they can focus on the work, create a community of belonging so they feel inspired to participate and then reward them with accomplishment and ownership. Provide basic accommodations and then teach them how to fish and they'll not only love you for it, but they'll take pride in their products and constantly push to make them better.
None of this is possible, however, if you as a leader aren't willing to let go of a consumer-based understanding of your HR and empower your employees to own the fruits of their labour. You want to tell your employees that you didn't build that - if they own it, they'll make it even better.
Which brings the question full circle - as a leader, what matters most to you - what you can consume, or what you leave behind?