Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The power of small rewards

This afternoon some textbooks arrived from a publisher for me to consider using in my classes, which happens often, and in the box I made the most remarkable discovery—a package of really, really good fudge cookies (burp) and two bags of Starbucks coffee (along with the textbooks). I’ve received probably hundreds of such textbooks over the years and never once a gift. Wow! I felt like the luckiest person in the world, and the heretofore anonymous editor who sent them to me is now one of my favorite people.

I started thinking, in between bites, why this gift had such an impact on me. After all, I am ordering 330 copies of a textbook, and they go for at least $50, so this represents a $15,000+ order by little old me, and so I would expect book reps to be extra nice to me (which they are). As such, a simple $10 investment of coffee and cookies to make me notice this particular book is a very good investment. (And I would like to encourage this thinking to all book publishers who send me books).

Having just posted on cognitive dissonance, I was reminded of the famous $1-$20 study. In this experiment, subjects were given a mundane task to perform; some were paid $1 for their work and others were paid $20 (none knew what others received). Lo and behold, the recipients of $1 enjoyed doing the mundane task far more than those who received $20. Why? Cognitive dissonance theory explains that those in the $1 study had no good way of explaining their behavior. Certainly they did not do it for the money, but they did it anyway. Their answer? They decided they must have liked the task. Those in the $20 condition knew why they did the task… for the money and money alone. They viewed the task as undesirable from start to finish.

This is a counter-intuitive idea, that small rewards create a more favorable attitude change than large rewards (or no rewards), and it has broad implications for everything from raising children (don’t over-reward them) to selling books (send professors fudge cookies!).

Still being on a chocolate-high, I haven’t given much thought as to how this principle would apply to church life, but I saw something the other day at the church office that I think is in the right direction. The visitor-welcoming committee (which I think, being a small church, is also the pastoral staff) put together a gift pack for first-time visitors, including a water bottle, chocolate bar, and other things. (Unfortunately, existing members can’t quit and rejoin—that was my first question). Maybe visitors will like our church, maybe they won’t, but the little gift should make them feel more welcome than otherwise.

If ten dollars is worth spending for a book order, how much more for an eternity?


knumbknuts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...


Let's try this again.

Anyway, growing up it was tough beating you to the cookies. Whatever analysis you do has to take into that into account. ;)

brewright said...

Sad thing, it's still true. My wife and kids have learned to hide cookies just to have any hope of getting any.


Anonymous said...

so if you pay low wages they will enjoy their jobs more??? tell your capitalist class buddies!

CreditGuy said...

It's always nice to get something for free. Even if this is somehting you will never use. And when you get a pack of cookies ... just excellent!