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. 

Self identity resonance, motivated reasoning, and the blindness of political decision making.

Self identity resonance, motivated reasoning, and the blindness of political decision making.

In general, when people are making a decision, they use their mirror neurons to visually imagine the future that will emerge if option 1 is selected, option 2 is selected, and then pick the one they prefer.  There is no good wiring to consider variation, base probabilities, and other factors that would make the decision more ‘rational.” Evolution has taught us that in the speed accuracy tradeoff, speed should be prioritized over accuracy.  Unfortunately, modern society is much different.

This leads to the real challenge of motivated reasoning – any option can have multiple possible outcomes and we decide which one to envision based on what we want to happen (this is usually unconscious of course, but very reliable).  So for the option we prefer, we imagine the best possible outcome and the one we don’t prefer we imagine the worst.  I am using hyperbole a little bit here, but unfortunately not as much as you might think. 

This goes a long way to explaining the gridlock in Washington.  It is easy for liberals to imagine the best possible future that could result of extensive implementation of liberal policies and to imagine the worst possible outcomes of the extensive implementation of conservative policies.  It is equally easy for conservatives to imagine the best possible results of extensive conservative policies and the worst possible results of liberal policies.   

The gridlock emerges because these visions of the future are just SOOOO different that the other side seems crazy.  Even if someone acknowledges that they could be slightly wrong, the other side’s vision looks like its from another planet.  This other person must be totally wrong – and therefore it is not worth debating or compromising.

Hence – gridlock.