When I’m driving, my car radio is usually tuned to National Public Radio (NPR), mainly because I know I’ll be entertained, hear some good music, and maybe learn something new. Not long ago “Morning Edition” reported on a phenomenon I knew nothing about: The Ikea Effect.
Ever heard of it? I hadn’t. Wikipedia explains: “The Ikea effect is a cognitive bias where labor enhances affection for its results. The name for this psychological phenomenon is in honor of the wildly successful Swedish manufacturer named Ikea, whose products typically arrive with some assembly required.”
The NPR commentator described it better:
“Imagine that, you know, you built a table,” said Daniel Mochon, a Tulane University marketing professor, who has studied the phenomenon. “Maybe it came out a little bit crooked. Probably your wife or your neighbor would see it for what it is, you know? A shoddy piece of workmanship. But to you that table might seem really great, because you’re the one who created it. It’s the fruit of your labor. And that is really the idea behind the Ikea Effect.”
Evidently, this phenomenon has been around for a long time and, according to The Harvard Business Review, has actually been exploited. A famous maker of cake mixes discovered that their product sold much better after they changed the instructions to require the addition of an egg in its preparation. (Previously, only the addition of water was needed.) It seems cooks took more pride in the results when they felt they’d contributed more to the creation of the end product.
The downside to this phenomenon is that while the person takes pleasure in her creation, she doesn’t take kindly to criticism about it. And that means the Ikea effect can be a problem for writers too. Anyone who has created a “perfect” scene—gorgeous description, snappy dialogue, biting humor—knows how hard it is to endure suggestions for improvement from well-meaning critique group members. I now understand that this is the Ikea Effect at work.
So if you have the following symptoms, you may be suffering from the negative effects of this malady:
Blindness that prevents you from seeing the flaws in your creation
Deafness that blocks negative comments about your creation
Prickliness that makes you grit your teeth when anyone suggests that your creation may be anything less than wonderful
And one final thought. If you see signs of the Ikea Effect in friends, it’s best to just nod and smile and keep your mouth shut. Trust me when I say they won’t appreciate hearing anything but praise for their wonky bookcase or the latest chapter of their book.
Harvard Business Review: http://hbr.org/web/2009/hbr-list/ikea-effect-when-labor-leads-to-love