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A Conversation with Dan Ariely About What Shapes Our Motivations (longreads.com)
85 points by geodel on Nov 18, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 10 comments



I heard about Ariely's research a few years ago and found it very exciting at the time. Now I find it unsettling. I can't help but think that an employer may gain insights from this research in order to undercompensate workers and exploit their psychology. The idea that employers already attempt to cultivate an atmosphere of family at work is deeply troubling.

I think Slavoj Žižek nails it when he describes the contrast between the old-school authoritarian boss and the post-modern boss [0].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dNbWGaaxWM


Why is this troubling? Before we had today's military-style old-school authoritarian corporate structure, Artisan guild economies were very family-like.

It's not under-compensation if the worker is getting more of what they want. Even Žižek says that the authoritarian style assumes that you know what the workers want more than they know themselves, and you're assuming that they want monetary compensation more.


The difference with a family-like artisan guild is that the workers themselves own the means of production, unlike today's typical corporate structure. Žižek's stated preference for the in-your-face authoritarian style is underpinned by his Marxist background. He wants the boss to get in your face so that you are better able to rebel against capitalism.

He sees this post-modern soft totalitarian style as far more threatening to the worker's liberty. Like with a cult, a prostitution ring, or organized crime, any situation where a person is convinced that they are part of a family in order to exploit them is dangerous to our free society.


I think there is a difference between identifying and supplying workers with what they know they want (family in the providing sense), with cults, prostitution rings, and organized crime (family in the extortion sense). The former doesn't necessarily mean the latter.

Also, in trade guilds, apprentices and journeyman rarely owned their own means of production.


Behavioral Economics is exciting and unsettling.

The research also can be used by employees in order to be overcompensated by their bosses! Likewise it can be used to get faster promotions or increase an employee's chances they are chosen to keep their job vs being among those given pink slips should layoffs ever happen at their employer.

In my experience I have seen more employees discover and utilize insights from behavioral economics to their advantage than I have seen instances of managers using it to exploit their employees. Employees who spend a bunch of time researching best strategies to ask for a raise are often way more prepared for such a meeting than their manager.

After a raise, is the new higher salary "fair compensation"? Or is it now "overcompensation"?...Who knows, there is no right answer to this. That is part of Ariely's point. Things like "fairly compensated" or "under compensated" are really subjective - one should be careful not to apply their own such value statements too broadly. everyone needs to chill and rethink their assumptions.

Also don't worry too much. This stuff mainly only matters at the margins (hence these things are "hidden").


Isn't this exactly what startups do now though? Catered lunches, snacks, beers kegs - but probably most importantly making you feel like a team player, part of the family, a "bro" (in a gender-neutral way).


The huge caveat with the "money can be demotivating" argument - which I feel never gets raised - is how damaging underpaying can be. If you see others being compensated more than you, for instance, for doing the same... even dogs get resentful: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9794478...

I also can't be the only person who gets upset when the team works incredibly hard, puts in extra hours, etc, towards some goal - say, keeping the company alive - and the only reward is a "good job team". It's quite possible that a party, a day off, etc, would be as good as a financial bonus.

If I feel I am undervalued at my current company, or if I am valued less than others I feel comparable to - that is a much bigger demotivator.

Similarly, cash or equity bonuses (especially after hard work, and not as a pre-set bonus triggering on a condition) feel great and help me to feel like the company cares about me.


Along similar lines, see "Punished by Rewards":

https://www.amazon.com/Punished-Rewards-Trouble-Incentive-Pr...


Is the argument that people do not know what is best, or That it doesn't matter?

People are an incredibly broad range, from the Homeless gentleman lying on a heating vent, to the hedge fund billionaire who does not waste a quarter, Because he knows what it will be worth compounded For thirty years. Granted I have used outliers to make my argument.


He is an amazing person. Met him in person and was blown away!




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