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Book Review- Payoff by Dan Ariely
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Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations (Ted Books)Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


What motivates us? It’s a pretty good hook for a book. Ariely uses some experimental research to find these answers. It’s not money. In fact, monetary incentives can de-motivate us. For example, if you pay more for hard work on a Friday, people are only can work hard on Fridays ( Kind of like the Bed Bath and Beyond 20% coupon we’ve come to expect).
It is that personalization and recognition that is what make those connections. A handwritten note goes further than a $20 bill. Ultimately, Ariely argues that humans are driven by the need to leave a legacy- that what we do is important.

There are some interesting experiments he shares such as one where he wants to see if people continue to do a project, based on whether that project gets reviewed or shredded. It certainly is easier to do a job that no one ever looks at your output, but ultimately we find it is less satisfying.

This is a TED book, so it’s brief in the way a TED talk would be. There’s barely 100 pages and the author makes the least of those pages as possible. If this was a book I bought (as opposed to borrowed from the library), I would deduct a star for paying $16 for this.

Ariely is probably an interesting guy, but this book does little to display that. I have read other reviews, and suspect that is the nature of the TED books. Like hearing only a greatest hit compilation from a great album rock artist. I just don’t think it did him justice, as if you should come to this book already knowing his work and expertise.

Like nearly all business books, it can fall short in real world answers, but the goal is to facilitate discussions, and this gives enough in that category. I would not discount money as a motivation altogether, as certainly it does motivate certain individuals. Ariely brings up workers who have worked on a project for months to only find it closed for whatever reason, and there’s no closure for them. If the CEO could even have them present what they learned, would be some recognition. Still, the modern business world generally does not work that way. He does hit some important parts- how modern business has de-personalizes us. The impersonal cubicle which is increasingly smaller. Companies that put emphasis on titles and enforce that some people are ‘more important’ than others because of their level.

I also think the only real solution for managers is that we “frame” our jobs to show how important they are. Ariely uses the example of someone who hated his job of cleaning hospital waste, but found satisfaction when reminded that sterility in an environment where surgeries are performed is one of the most important things ever.

I think Ariely really missed the idea of “layoff” errr.. “restructure” culture. Certainly the last decade has reinforced the idea that companies have no loyalty to employees- an idea that grew in the 90s and 00s as companies took away retiree benefits and pensions, but has built more upon those post-recession experiences that have touched nearly everyone in some way.

I will take his conclusion that we want to be remembered when we are ultimately gone, and I think that is true regardless of religion (or lack of) and even if there are children to carry on. We are our passions and we want to be thought of as doing something important. Even if it is just writing a book review that three people will read, right? It certainly makes sense to me. Now, I have had some recent conversations about pursuing passions as a career, and starting to hear some strong arguments against that, but that’s fuel for a different book.




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