One of the first blog posts I wrote five years ago: You Get the Behavior You Reward, featured the wonderful book from Alfie Kohn: “Punished by Rewards – The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, As, Praise, and Other Bribes.” Here’s a brief summary of the book from its web site:
“Drawing from hundreds of studies, Kohn demonstrates that people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with money, grades, or other incentives. Programs that use rewards to change people’s behavior are similarly ineffective over the long run. Promising goodies to children for good behavior can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. In fact, the more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we’re bribing them to do. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery.”
One of the stories from that book has always stuck with me, and for some reason, I found myself thinking about it again this week. Here’s the story:
Each day an elderly man endured the insults of a crowd of ten-year-olds as they passed his house on their way home from school. One afternoon, after listening to another round of jeers about how stupid and ugly and bald he was, the man came up with a plan. He met the children on his lawn the following Monday and announced that anyone who came back the next day and yelled rude comments about him would receive a dollar. Amazed and excited, they showed up even earlier on Tuesday, hollering epithets for all they were worth. True to his word, the old man ambled out and paid everyone. “Do the same tomorrow,” he told them, “and you’ll get twenty-five cents for your trouble.” The kids thought that was still pretty good and turned out again on Wednesday to taunt him. At the first catcall, he walked over with a roll of quarters and again paid off his hecklers. “From now on,” he announced, “I can give you only a penny for doing this.” The kids looked at each other in disbelief. “A penny?” they repeated scornfully. “Forget it!” And they never came back again.
A clever old man for sure.
It is often assumed that adding an incentive, in this case a monetary one, will increase a person’s motivation to do something. However, that is not what is happening here.
The old man started rewarding the kids for something they had been doing voluntarily and somehow found some joy in doing. As soon as money was introduced, the children viewed the task as something they did to get paid. Once the money was taken away, they lost interest.
And that was the old man’s goal, to take away their intrinsic motivation.
Kohn suggests this is what many parents and teachers are doing, killing off the interest of kids from doing something they like by introducing rewards into the process.
It’s a good lesson, and one that came just in time.
Since I am trying to reach 1,000 followers, I think I’ve come up with a plan that will help get me there sooner.
I am going to find 100 people who currently do not read my blog, and pay them $10 a day NOT to read my blog. After a week, I’ll cut it to $5, then a week later to $1, and then a few days later, there will be no payment at all. At this point, they will have lost interest in NOT following my blog, and so they will begin to follow. Before you know it, I will be over 1,000 followers.
Think of all the places this approach could work:
- kids not cleaning their room? start off by paying them to NOT clean their room, and then slowly reduce the payment to $0. There will be pent-up demand to clean their rooms.
- kids not doing homework? pay them NOT to do it – we know where this is leading…
- somebody won’t go on a date with you? Pay them NOT to go on a date with you. Keep doing so for a few weeks, and then stop paying the person. Before you know it, the person will be begging you to go on a date with them.
The possibilities are endless.
There is, of course, the chance I completely misread the message Alfie Kohn is trying to make.
I’ll let you know how my plan for getting followers works out…
*image from verywell mind