Understanding Motivation

It's extremely important to understand how to motivate people effectively, regardless of whether you're dealing with your work and family life. And it turns out most of our ideas about motivation are way off the mark.

In this short video, behavioural economist Dan Ariely discusses some of the results of his field:

One part that stands out to me, towards the end of the video, where Ariely discusses the value we place on our own ideas.

The experiment he recounts involves researchers working with children to create drawings. In one group, the researcher gives instructions on what to draw and the child draws it. In the other group the child comes up with the ideas and the researcher draws it. Then the researcher takes the drawing out to the child's parents and claims credit for creating the drawing. It's a test designed to figure out which outcome upsets the children more. (Possibly) counterintuitively, it's when the children are coming up with the ideas, more so than when they are doing the work.

I was instantly reminded of the magic community and the territoriality we often express when it comes to our magical creations. Magic is a strange domain where, because of various historical eccentricities, our advances are not subject to the same intellectual property protections enjoyed by most authors, composers and inventors. Simply put, it's not possible to copyright a magic trick. (There are extremely rare exceptions.)

Instead, we settle for the glory and general warm fuzzy feeling that comes by putting our creations in print. Historically this was done through trade publications, although more recently books, DVDs and video downloads have replaced most of that. Sometimes the secrets are sold for money, sometimes they come for free with the cost of a magazine subscription. Either way, we are desperate for credit. And that never made quite as much sense to me as it did after I watched this clip.

I have known for a while that magicians are trapped between two worlds, much like a professional research scientist working for a corporation. On the one hand, science benefits if the research is published and shared as widely as possible. On the other hand, the corporation benefits if the research stays behind closed doors. 

In magic, it's generally the secret which matters. While some skills require constant practice to maintain. If I go more than a few days without reviewing some of the parts of this trick, I loose the ability to do it and have to devote time to getting the required accuracy back. Other tricks, once you know the secret, you can do them again at a moment's notice, even after months and years. So the danger is that if another magician has the secret, that trick could be in their show the following night. And so the magical world is full of these elaborate balancing acts between releasing certain secrets and holding back others so that the industry can eat its cake and still have it.