The IKEA effect: what a Swedish furniture store can teach us about motivation

Consider the IKEA bookshelf. Assembling it requires time, and effort, and the energy to fight with your assembly partner because each of you blames the other for losing the last wood dowel.

But alas, it’s finished, and boy, do you love that bookshelf.

This phenomenon, of building something and then adoring it, is what psychologists call the “IKEA effect” — and it applies well beyond the scope of Swedish furniture.

Psychologists first labeled the IKEA effect in 2011, when they conducted a series of experimentsthat found people like and value their own creations — like origami and Legos — more than other people’s.

According to Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and a co-author on the 2011 study, we can harness the power of the IKEA effect to increase motivation in the workplace. The key is simply giving people credit for their creations.

In his new book, “Payoff,” Ariely argues that human motivation, especially in the workplace, is more complex than we might imagine. When he visited the Business Insider office in November, Ariely suggested that managers capitalize on the IKEA effect and “get people to feel that something is theirs in a unique way and therefore they will feel more connected to it.”

That might mean letting people put their name on something — for example, the open source community allows people to put their names on pieces of code they write.

Giving people credit is, Ariely admits, harder than it might have been in years past. When he was younger, he said, he could program something in Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC), for example. “The whole problem was mine.”

He went on:

“These days, life is so complex, projects have so many people involved, it’s very hard to feel a sense of of ownership, especially over the whole thing. … So many people do so many small things. The final product is a combination of lots of effort. But having a true IKEA effect, where you say, ‘This is mine,’ is a little harder.”

Yet even telling people that a project is theirs to lead from the get-go can increase their enthusiasm. And when workers are more excited, Ariely said, they work harder for their organization and “everybody benefits.”

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