Sunday, October 06, 2013

Trophies for all - a terrible motivating and feedback tool. But a good onboarding tool.

There is an interesting contrast between a NYT article  from Ashley Merryman (who I have blogged about before) and blog post from Gabe Zicherman (who I have also blogged about before).  

What I like about the discussion is that the real answer is my favorite – "it depends".  To oversimplify, Ashley says that giving every participant a trophy is devaluing of the experience.  One of the primary motivators of learning and skill development is competition (a social achievement).  Another is the desire to develop mastery (an individual achievement).  When you get a trophy, you don’t win or lose (no competition) and you don’t get feedback as to whether you developed any mastery or not (because the trophy is given regardless of what you learned). 

Gabe’s point is a little harder to oversimplify.  When you first start out a new activity, you may be unsure of how to do it.  You may not be sure if it is even worth your time to do it.  You may not know what benefits there are for doing it.  There is a brief window (about 60 seconds) in which most people decide whether to keep going or not.  If you give everyone a reward of some kind during this window, it might be just enough to get them over this onboarding hump.  They might try for a little bit longer, figure out the right way to get the right benefits and why to bother.  If so, the automatic reward, even if everyone gets it, is still very valuable.

But I think they are arguing different ends of the activity.  Ashley is against giving everyone trophies at the end of the class, the end of the baseball season, or the end of the concert.  This does blur the lines of competition and of individual mastery.  But Gabe is promoting giving trophies at the beginning of the class, the baseball season or the concert.

Maybe they are both right.  Automatic trophies given to all participants are good onboarding tools but terrible feedback and motivational tools. 

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