Selected TED/TEDx talks by Dan Ariely on honesty, motivation, and choice

Dan Ariely is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics. He is well-known for his books in these fields as well as for his popular and admired TED talks. Ariely is an extremely effective communicator because his observations incorporate both psychology and business, blending the internal and external motivators for behavior. In this spirit, Ariely is able to debunk assumptions about conduct and provide explanations for instincts, two powerful sets of insights for compliance and ethics.

  • Meaning in Labor: Perhaps people’s assumptions about why we work and what we value most in our work cultures are wrong. Maturing from an idea that most people would rather not work and only do so to make money helps to show that a search for meaning (much as described by Holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl in his work on existential analysis) is the most powerful and provocative driver of human labor and achievement. Simply put, meaning gives motivation, and having a purpose to the work performed encourages people to invest in it. The idea of giving purposeful work a priority that is equal to or even sometimes greater than profitable work is novel and challenging. However, this speaks directly to the importance of a robust compliance culture and a corporate identity that promotes ethical decision-making and acting with integrity. These values drive meaningful engagement and therefore can contribute to a more positive working environment and sustainable business.

 

  • Money Changes Everything: Taking the suggestion of the importance of meaning as the true driver behind human behavior (both inside and outside of work) forward, what then is the true impact of money? Clearly the power of money is a timeless and universal notion, but perhaps its actual effect on human behavior is not so straightforward. Money changes the tone of all interactions; adding the financial element to these relationships is transformative and perhaps demotivating. Therefore how do people’s decision-making processes and motivations change between their conduct in their private life, where money is not inherently a factor, and work life, where everyone is paid to be engaged together? Interestingly, this talk was delivered at Burning Man, where exchange of money is mostly not permitted.

 

  • The Unexpected Joys and Problems with Creation: The sense of accomplishment from successfully problem-solving and completing a difficult task may actually be the key motivation behind doing challenging or unpleasant things. The harder something is to do, the prouder people feel about persisting and doing it. Further, the sense that other people will feel this pride too or that the difficult work can benefit others is also a motivating factor. Not only does the altruistic sentiment make people more motivated, it may also make them more honest, as the force of “prosocial behavior” encourages people to engage in better behavior for a common good. This has obvious implications for compliance; a corporate culture which positions integrity and ethics as a core value and rewards it visibly will speak collectively to all these motivations and therefore drive productivity and engagement.

 

  • Self Control: Another important and interesting area of Ariely’s scholarship is in the study of self control. Self control can often be the interference between our long-term goals and our short-term desires, or our internal instincts and the external factors they face. Facing the trade-offs implied by these dichotomies is challenging. This often leads to over-emphasizing present impact of the decision-making over the future consequences. Encouraging people to consider and not discount the considerations of the future is very important for directing the impulse of self control into a more balanced and sustainable influence.

 

  • Temptations and Self Control: Continuing on the theme of struggling to balance current interests with more remote future outcomes, this lecture encourages people to understand what creates the gap in their self control. With this insight in mind, the trade-off becomes more manageable to consider in a more holistic way. Motivations to value future priorities or avoid future problems could include targeted rewards and using rationality against instinct to adjust gain-loss perceptions. This is easily applicable in the corporate environment, where performance evaluations and business strategies should be designed with both short and long term effect analyses in mind. This way, growth will be sustainable and values will be maintained.

 

Ariely’s presentations on people’s choices – including whether to lie or cheat, or not to – go directly to the meaning of why people do what they do, and what factors exist that may change or impact that. Organizational and individual integrity can be sourced back to these motivations for honesty and self-control, and therefore the studied application of Ariely’s insights to a compliance and ethics program is very valuable.

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