Ariely's 128 Page Book 'Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations'

The short book that every higher ed manager should read.

December 4, 2016

Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

Published in November of 2016.

Are you a manager? How many direct reports do you have? How many performance reviews do you write?

Most everyone who becomes a manager in higher ed has no management training. We become managers as part of our career progression. The path to promotion requires moving into a management role.

In higher ed this usually means some sort of Director title (assistant, associate, etc.) - although many Directors don’t manage anyone.  

Here is my recommendation.  Anyone managing anyone in higher ed should read Dan Ariely’s new book Payoff.  The book is short, slim, concise, and a fast read. The book’s 128 pages will go by almost as quickly as watching a couple of episodes of Westworld - minus the head scratching.  (The audiobook version takes 2 hours and 37 minutes to complete).

Every higher ed manager should read Payoff because most of us have not really internalized the idea of internal motivation.  

Yes, many of us read Dan Pink’s excellent 2011 Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  I think that Drive changed some thinking for a while, but the forces of external motivation, supervision, control, and hierarchy are strong.

The brilliance of Ariely’s short book is that he lets the research drive his conclusions. Ariely has a genius for devising experiments that illuminate the motivational forces behind productivity.  His findings from his research show time and again that the levers that managers think that they have to get the best work out of their staff don’t actually work - and are even likely to backfire.  

Incentives, bonuses, annual performance reviews, titles, raises, etc. etc. are all nice - who doesn’t want a good performance review - can also have unintended consequences. And just as our brains are not good at evaluating risk or understanding our own motivations, we seem to be poorly built to grasp what motivates (or de-motivates) others.  

Being a good manager does not equal following your gut (as it is often wrong) or adhering the conventional wisdom (as the conventional wisdom created the modern manager and her tools).  

Rather, the best best is to follow the research.  And the research, that Ariely has done himself and synthesized from others, says that productivity in today’s knowledge economy is all about internal motivation.  The way to engender an internally motivated workforce is not through supervision or tightly defined tasks, but by creating a vision (a destination) in which everyone on the team feels invested.  

Trust, autonomy, support, and gratitude should be the standard operating procedure for every higher ed manager.  

But don’t take my word for it.  Read Payoff, and then evaluate the research for yourself.

What are you reading?


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