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Weekly I/O: We never know why we do anything, Reward without effort destroys you, Look up and around
#63: Split-brain and Made-up Reason, Reward without Effort, Look Up and Around, Cannot Preach Minimalism, Money Wasted on Advertisement
Greetings from Sunnyvale!
Here's your weekly dose of I/O. I hope you enjoy it :)
Here's a list of what I'm exploring and pondering on this week.
1. We can never know the actual reasons why we do anything. The observations of split-brain patients reveal that our true motivations are unknown behind all logical decisions.
Split-brain patients, whose left and right brain hemispheres cannot communicate, have uncovered a mind-boggling secret about decision-making from a neuroscience perspective.
Researchers have conducted experiments with split-brain patients. They instruct the patients in their right ear: "Please open the window," and they will open it. The brain connected to the left ear has no information about the instruction given by the researcher. However, when asked in the left ear why they opened the window, the patient replied confidently, "I opened it because it's a bit cold here." And they genuinely believe that's the reason they opened the window.
A couple of similar instances exist where one side of the brain acts upon information unknown to the other. And the patient will always make up a reason why they do that. The patients don't know they are making it up and feel completely confident that the made-up reason is why they did it.
This phenomenon is not limited to split-brain patients and is often true for us. We interpret our behavior in a way that makes it seem like a logical decision when our true motivations are unknown. We can never know the actual reasons why we do anything. Therefore, we shouldn't even believe anything we tell ourselves.
2. Getting rewards without effort or achievement is detrimental and destroys people's motivation.
Hard work followed by a reward is a powerful motivator, whereas rewards given without effort or achievement are detrimental. That's why participation trophy for kids oftentimes undermines their motivation. Rewarding every child, regardless of their performance, flattens the dopamine curve and lowers motivation for the activity.
High dopamine levels with no effort will deter motivation because it diminishes both the value of the prize and the value of effort required to achieve that thing. This is similar to how drugs like cocaine and amphetamines can be incredibly destructive. When people realize that they can experience intense pleasure without much effort, it becomes difficult for anything else to motivate them. Unearned dopamine releases can essentially transform humans into single-minded zombies.
Moreover, constantly rewarding every small positive action diminishes the significance of those actions and reduces one's ability to self-motivate, especially for kids. Intrinsic motivation is the strongest form of motivation, while extrinsic rewards can diminish the propensity to engage in an activity.
3. Don't only look down. As an individual contributor in an organization, one should spend 20 percent of the time looking up and looking around.
Individual contributors (ICs), who do not have managerial responsibilities, are primarily tasked with completing specific assignments. Their role is to pay close attention to details, and most ICs depend on their managers to set a destination and lay a path for them to keep their focus on the work.
Nevertheless, if an IC constantly looks down with their eyes exclusively on their tight deadlines and the minutiae of their job, they may walk directly into a brick wall. Therefore, an IC needs to spend 20 percent of the time looking up and around.
Look up means looking beyond the next deadline and looking forward to all the milestones in the next few months. Then look all the way further to your ultimate goal: the mission. Ideally, it should be the reason you joined the project in the first place. As your project progresses, be sure the mission still makes sense to you and that the path to reach it seems achievable.
Look around means getting out of your comfort zone and away from the immediate team you're on. Talk to the other functions in your company to understand their perspectives, needs, and concerns. This internal networking is valuable and can warn you early if your project is not headed in the right direction.
4. You cannot preach minimalism to people who don't feel the pain and haven't had too much stuff.
This reminds me of the most lasting lesson I learned as a marketing intern years ago. The principle of Copywriting: Sell Fear, Offer Hope.
5. “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” - John Wanamaker
I always love the quote because it reminds me of how clueless we are about many business strategies. We might never know to what extent spending money on advertising is similar to just "spray and pray".
That's it. Thanks for reading. Since I always want to know more about my readers, please let me know which input you find most useful or interesting. You can take 5 seconds and reply to this email with a number!
As always, feel free to send me any interesting ideas you came across recently!
Looking forward to learning from you.