From the Lab: The IKEA Effect

On a recent episode of NBC’s Bull, Bull mentioned the the IKEA effect, and it got me thinking about how it might apply to speaking.

But first, what is the IKEA effect? The IKEA effect is the tendency for people to place higher value on things that they’ve played a role in creating. For example, in the original article about the effect, Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely reported that people who assembled IKEA products, folded origami, or put together Legos came to see their creations as more valuable than the same products created by others—in the case of the IKEA products, 63% more valuable! (According to a followup study, this increase in value can be attributed to increased feelings of competence that arise from creating things.) This was true not only for people who like do-it-yourself projects, but also for those who had no particular interest in them. It’s also true even when most of the work is done by the manufacturer—simply being part of the design process triggers it. Finally, it applies in a variety of realms: another recent study demonstrated that the IKEA effect extends to cooking: all else being equal, we like food that we’ve prepared more than food that has been prepared for us.

So what does this all have to do with speaking?

In the realm of ideas, there is a similar phenomenon called “not invented here” (NIH) syndrome, which causes people to place less value on ideas proposed by someone else and more value on ideas they generate themselves.

Therefore, in the context of speaking, if you believe your audience may be afflicted with NIH syndrome, it may be a good time to use audience involvement. In The Science of Speaking, I note that by involving the audience through discussions, role plays, or demos, you can get your audience to feel more invested in your ideas. Indeed, in class, when we begin with a discussion, which lets the students propose most of the basic concepts themselves before we do, we find that they are much more interested in learning about them.

In the case of serious NIH syndrome, the best case scenario is that the audience believes your ideas are actually their own. This advice is often given to people pitching to VCs: if you let the VCs give you feedback and contribute their own ideas about your company, they’ll feel much more invested in your company. This is because they’ll feel like they created part of it and want to see “their idea” through to fruition.

While this advice doesn’t apply in all situations (e.g., it’s probably better if your wife believes it was your idea to buy her flowers, not hers), it’s a useful tool to keep in mind.

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