Book Summary: Payoff

Motivation is used in every part of our life; our significant others, friends, employees, bosses, family, and waitresses are all motivated by us.

Motivation is a complicated psychological concept. Dan Ariely investigates the underlying nature of motivation and what drives us to accomplish what we do in his book.

Understanding what motivates others and ourselves is critical to increasing the joy – and reducing the confusion – in our lives. That's all he's got to say.


A man working in front his laptop.

Ariely has tested the impact of demotivation in some different ways.

In the first experiment, he had participants construct Lego Bionicles. Participants were paid $2 for each Bionicle they built. After they were done, they were asked whether they wanted to make another one for eleven cents less ($1.89, $1.78, etc.).

This trend continued until they no longer wanted to.

The participants were separated into two groups. One group was told that the Bionicles would be taken apart and reused for the following group at the end of the experiment. The Bionicles of the second set was promptly destroyed after completion, directly in front of the creators' eyes.

Because they believed they had finished their task properly, the first group was dubbed the "meaningful" condition. The "Sisyphic" condition was named after the Greek Sisyphus. He was cursed by the gods to roll a rock up and down a hill for all eternity.

On average, participants in the second group constructed four fewer structures than those in the "meaningful" condition. This implies that having significance in your work will motivate you to work longer hours for less money.

Ariely conducted a similar experiment in which participants were asked to locate pairs of identical letters on a sheet of paper.

Participants were divided into three groups this time.

When one group gave in their completed piece of paper, they were acknowledged, another group was not, and the third group's work was shredded on the spot.

Each participant received a similar offer to the Lego experiment: 55 cents for the first sheet, then 5 cents for each successive sheet.

The "acknowledged" group, predictably, worked for far longer. When the wage rate dropped to around 15 cents, they stopped. The "shredded" group, on the other hand, came to a halt at approximately 29 cents. When the pay reached 27.5 cents per page, the "ignored" condition ceased working.

As a result, Ariely and his colleagues concluded that although trashing someone's work will undoubtedly demotivate them, ignoring it will almost likely have the same impact.

When we are praised for our efforts, we are more inclined to work longer hours for less money.

Ariely explained the two conditions of the first experiment – "Sisyphic" and "meaningful" – to participants in a third experiment. He next asked them to pretend they were advisors for a business that operated a Bionicle manufacturing plant.

He instructed them to estimate how many Bionicles would be assembled if their customer moved from their present "Sisyphic" approach to the "meaningful" method.

Participants estimated that switching would result in only one more Bionicle. Thus they did not advise the CEO to do so.

In real life, the swap would result in a four-fold rise in Bionicles. The participants expected a considerably lower influence than what actually occurred. They undervalued the importance of meaning, which is critical because many CEOs lack access to data and instead depend on their own forecasts, as did the participants.

To prevent unintentionally demotivating your staff, search for areas that unintentionally harm motivation and productivity by not properly considering rewards.

When employers tell their employees that they are valued just for their output, motivation will inevitably suffer.

There are several strategies to foster employee emotions of significance and connection. One method is to treat them as distinct people who are valued for their brains and creativity.

Make it a priority to help people discover purpose and connection in their job.

Our Own Creations

A man is creating a product.

Motivation is directly influenced by effort and ownership. We feel more ownership of a project when we work harder and devote more time and effort to it.

This may be seen in the IKEA furniture that customers assemble themselves. The time and effort put into making the furniture frequently results in the sense of pleasure. Individuals prefer that piece of furniture to others.

This was proven in one experiment. In exchange for an hourly payment, participants were required to construct origami masterpieces. The experimenters offered to "purchase it back" for a fee when they were finished. This group was in contrast to a second group that did not make the origami but was still given the opportunity.

Those who created it were ready to spend five times as much as the onlookers for their handcrafted product. This demonstrates that the more effort people put in, the more invested they appear in their work.

Furthermore, they greatly underestimated how much other people would be ready to pay for their origami when asked. This demonstrates that humans have a strong prejudice towards the things we make.

As we put more effort into various activities, we get more invested. As a result, we develop a stronger passion for what we have done.

Meaningful involvement, and our underappreciation of its importance in our lives, extends to many other parts of our life. That is why we are prepared to hire someone to create our furniture.

We don't know that we're exchanging a vexing work for a profound appreciation and connection with the end result.

Money, Money, Money

A rich guy with big smile holding a lot of money.

Many individuals are curious about the kind of external rewards that are most effective in motivating people.

It's hard to develop a single set of encouraging principles because motivation is a component of virtually everything we do. The method for motivating an army squad differs from motivating a toddler to eat more veggies.

No one experiment can address the issue of what generates motivation since it is so complicated. Many experiments, on the other hand, can guide us on the correct path.

Professors investigated the usefulness of high incentives in one experiment. They discovered that when the bonus was really big, performance actually suffered.

This was most likely due to the tension and anxiety of missing out on the incentive. However, because it was done in a controlled lab context, it wasn't always accurate.

Later, at Intel in Israel, Ariely conducted a real-life replica of the experiment. They established a target for the employees to achieve by the end of the week. They set up four distinct circumstances for the workers who made computer chips.

  1. The first was a message promising a monetary reward if the target was met.
  2. The second was a message that stated that a pizza coupon would be given if the objective was met.
  3. The third was a guarantee from their employer that if they met the goal, they would receive a text message from him saying, "Well done!"
  4. The control group, on the other hand, did not receive a letter or bonus.

The three incentives resulted in more motivation than the control group in all three cases. The pizza coupon increased production by 6.7 percent, whereas cash only encouraged staff by 4.9 percent.

On the second day of the work cycle, however, individuals in the money condition outperformed those in the control condition by 13.2 percent. They saw a 6.5 percent reduction in performance for the week compared to no incentive at all.

Although the praise group improved attention even when there was no incentive, the pizza conditions showed comparable tendencies.

The findings show that employment is much more than just a means of exchanging labor for money. The more chances for purpose and connection a firm can provide its workers, the harder they will work and the more loyal they will be.

It will be simpler for employees to spend their time and energy in their job if you can express a feeling of long-term commitment.

This may be accomplished through investing in employees' education, providing health benefits that clearly signal a desire for a healthy future, investing in their personal growth, well-being, and providing a route for advancement and development within the firm.

Human motivation includes vital and fundamental components such as trust and goodwill. Paying employees directly for their performance, however, negates this. If a loved one makes you a beautiful and tasty dinner because they care about you, your refusal to compensate for their efforts would irritate them and devalue the meal offer.

Goodwill is valuable, but it is also fleeting. Take care not to damage it.


We all want to believe in an afterlife, that we will be remembered when we die, even if the only thing left behind is a symbolic burial marker.

We are driven by a desire to leave a mark on the world. Would your life be different if you knew that everything you wrote, created, or influenced would vanish without a trace after you died? Yes, very certainly, because our impact on the world is a major incentive for how we act.

Funerals may be used to investigate the desire for literal or symbolic immortality. As well as the kind of motives that affect us more broadly, such as caring for others, assisting, making apologies, and seeking meaning.

Our desire to be remembered is fueled by the thought of our own demise. Our need to leave a legacy is strong. It gives us a glimpse into the depth and diversity of our motivations, which we are only beginning to explore, appreciate, and comprehend.

The Answer to the Ultimate Question

A man is working on his laptop doing workflow.

The question of motivation is so broad that it touches on nearly every element of human activity and drive. It is difficult to ever answer since it is so large.

We do, however, have some hints. Money, it turns out, isn't the clear, powerful incentive that many of us perceive it to be. In fact, it's frequently a deterrent.

We also discovered that ignoring, criticizing, disregarding, or destroying someone's effort may demotivate them.

We also discovered that we are motivated by various intangible emotional impulses. These include a need to be acknowledged and feel ownership, a sense of success, the security of a long-term commitment, and a sense of shared purpose.

To successfully motivate ourselves and others, we must create a sense of connection and significance.

We may have endless energy for human motivation if we invest in a feeling of connection, meaning, ownership, and long-term thinking.

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