Musings from the CU Suite

May 17, 2012

Lottery, Free Will and Motivation

Written by Anthony Demangone

Why do housing cooperatives often require all units to be owner-occupied?

Why do people treat rental cars differently than their own rides?

Why do some people trash hotel rooms?

The answer to all these questions is ownership.  If you own it, you treat it better.  You shine it up.  You cherish it.  You maintain it. 

With this in mind, please read this blog post from the Harvard Business Review. In it, Scott Keller discusses a fantastic study that shows the power of personal choice and ownership.  Here's a snippet:


In a famous experiment, researchers ran a lottery with a twist. Half the participants were randomly assigned a lottery number. The remaining half were given a blank piece of paper and a pen and asked to write down any number they would like as their lottery number. Just before drawing the winning number, the researchers offered to buy back the tickets. The question researchers wanted to answer is, "How much more do you have to pay someone who 'wrote their own number' versus someone who was handed a number randomly?" The rational answer would be that there is no difference (given that a lottery is pure chance and therefore every ticket number, chosen or assigned, should have the same value). A more savvy answer would be that you would have to pay less for the tickets where the participant chose the number, given the possibility of duplicate numbers in the population who wrote their own number. The real answer? No matter what location or demographic the experiment has taken place in, researchers have always found that they have to pay at least five times more to those who wrote their own number.

This result reveals an inconvenient truth about human nature: When we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome — by a factor of five to one.


This study may get to the very core of why managing people is so difficult.  On one hand, managers give guidance and direction.  But on the other hand, employees are much more committed to ideas and projects when they have ownership.  It is a very difficult balancing act.  

Marshall Goldsmith talks about this issue in his book, What Got You Here, Won't Get You There.  On his list of the 20 Annoying Habits, "adding too much value" is number 2.  This annoying habit robs ownership of ideas.  An employee comes to you with an idea, and you say...Great, but it would be even better if we did THIS or THAT!  

You've stolen the idea.  You've taken away ownership.  And as noted above, you've de-motivated someone by a factor of 5 to 1. 


Here are some other "good reads" that caught my eye this week.

  1. Sure, gas is expensive.  But it could be worse. (Bloomberg, via The Big Picture.)
  2. Uh-oh.  76% of employees would leave their job if the right opportunity presented itself.  (Fiscal Times.)
  3. Degrees of Debt.  A Generation Hobbled by The Soaring Cost of College. (The New York Times.)
  4. How Hewlett-Packard Lost its Way. (CNN Money.)
  5. What's the unemployment rate without government cuts? (Wall Street Journal.)

Have a great weekend, everyone!