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From Zero Sum Game to Win-Win at Work

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Dan Ariely
Dan Ariely
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My guest today is Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.

Joan Brunwasser: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Dan. I first interviewedyou back in 2012, exactly four years ago. You've written several New York Times best-selling books, including Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality , that explore how and why we make decisions. You have a new book, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations. What motivated you to write this one?

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Dan Ariely: In the last few years, actually quite a few years, since I started writing about my injuries, I got lots of people who write me about their injuries. And people have lots of questions. Mostly, they want to know what would life look like, post-injury. When people get injured, it's very clear to them what they've lost. But how they're going to live with the injury afterward is not as clear. And they want to have a discussion and talk about some of the options. I describe in the introduction to Payoff, that this is a very difficult process. I describe one case like this, but it's a very difficult, painful process. Personally exhausting, sometimes I cry; it's very consuming. And it's very, very different from what we think about when we think about happiness. It's not sitting on a beach drinking mojitos. And nevertheless, I'm drawn to it. It's not that I'm drawn from the regular happiness perspective; I'm drawn to it because I feel I can help and contribute and so on. I started doubting the question of what is real happiness. When whether the short-term happiness that we are engaging in all the time is something that is not necessarily the long-term happiness that we should be engaged with. That was the first part.

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The second part was to think about what we do with our lives, how we motivate other people. So there's the question about what motivates us and what's happiness and then there's the question of what motivates other people. I think often we have the notion that money motivates people. It turns out too that money has some advantages as a motivator but it's not always the panacea. Sometimes, money creates demotivation; it somehow changes how we think about work and so on. So it was searching for happiness on one hand, understanding that in many business contexts, we use money as a motivator. And wanting to question whether this is always the right choice and under what conditions should we think about motivation at work in broader terms.

That was the initial insight. And I just wanted to understand more of it and try to figure out if it's a thought that we should share with other people. If you think about it, if you have two factories, one gets people to be demotivated, the people in the factory suffer and the factory is not productive. If you think about one in which people are motivated, the people are happier, produce more and the factory is more effective. So, in all of those cases where motivation exists, everybody benefits.

It's not a zero sum game. It's not a single pie. The pie can actually get larger. How do we get more of that?

Dan with LEGO Bionicles, which feature in many of his experiments
Dan with LEGO Bionicles, which feature in many of his experiments
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JB: I like the idea that, in the business context, this can be win-win as opposed to a zero sum game. But, as you say in your book, motivation is complex. You did discover fairly quickly how easy it is to demotivate. Can you talk about that a bit?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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