This is a Guest Post by Rodlie Ortiz. This post is somewhat of a different kind than we typically get here but I thought it was a good principle worth remembering. It’ll be your job to extrapolate that out to technology and it’s use.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of incentives recently. Steven Levitt, the renowned economist from the University of Chicago devotes a chapter to the topic in his book Freakonomics. The chapter is called “What do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?”
So here’s the gist of the issue: People will cheat if the incentive is big enough and the associated risk is small enough.
We’re all used to the idea of students cheating to do better on tests. After all, if you don’t pass some tests, you may not pass the class. Once, when I was in high school geometry, I entered some answers into my TI-89 calculator. I passed the test. Another time in AP English class I carefully…well, let’s move on.
What we’re not so used to hearing, though, is about teachers cheating.
I always looked up to teachers as castles of moral integrity and as civil missionaries. Those that seemingly don’t make a lot of money but still choose to work with hormonal/moody/hyper kids were surely saints on earth. But in the book Levitt details what happened when the state of California introduced $25,000 bonuses “for teachers who produced big test scores.” Many cheated.
More thoughts after the jump:
He also details the case of sumo wrestlers in Japan and how they (purportedly) cheated. He came to this conclusion by examining the data of wins vs. losses. In a sumo tournament, a wrestler must play a total of fifteen matches, and win at least eight of those matches to stay in the top tier. What stood out to the author, though, is what happened when a player with a 8-6 record fought against a player with a 7-7 record. It would seem that the player with the 8-6 record would be more likely to win, due to their better record, but in 80% of all similar matches the player with the 7-7 record won. What does this mean? The better fighter gave the other guy a win so that they could both have a winning record. In other words, “I’ll scratch your back right now, but when the time comes, you owe me a really nice scratch on the back.”
So what does all of this have to do with churches and organizations? In a sense, as leaders, we’re all dealing with the issue of incentives- that “means of urging people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad thing,” as Levitt says.
In a macro way there’s always this polarity of urging people to do the good (and get to heaven) and do less bad (to avoid hell). And in a more specific way, what leader doesn’t use incentives to get his first time guests to come back, or to encourage a volunteer by sending a thank you card. After all, it’s the behavior that gets rewarded that gets repeated.
I think this all makes sense, and we don’t have to look for further evidence than a child avoiding a hot stove after getting burned just once to understand this.
But what I found truly surprising was his analysis of incentives amongst voters in Switzerland using similar variables of monetary incentives. In one “county” in the country, they tried to pay people to vote to see by how much their voting percentages would increase. Guess what happened? Much less people voted. It turns out there was a much more powerful force at play in encouraging people to do “the good.” It’s a force so powerful that it goes beyond monetary incentives: positive social pressure.
It turns out that people vote because there is a sense of a”national culture,” and that is what good citizens do. They want to be seen walking towards the polling stations and they want to sport the sticker that proudly proclaims to everyone that, yes, I did my duty. I dragged myself to the polling station and I voted.
So I wonder how this principle could be used to better help shape corporate or organizational cultures? In this post I wrote about my experience in Colombia and shared how I thought the simple value of courtesy worked its way into the national culture.
In one of my churches I tested out this principle in two ways:
A few months ago, we were going to be launching a new system of small groups based upon the book Activate, by Nelson Searcy. We’d be launching a new semester of affinity based groups, and decided that we’d spend a whole month promoting the small groups, and each week as people signed up, we’d ask those that had signed up to raise their hands. Every week as more people raised their hands, it began to give a sense of inevitability and that more and more people were jumping onto the bandwagon. This sense of positive social peer pressure helped us get more people to sign up for the small groups.
This has also worked in a similar fashion when we were doing a special month of ministry emphasis.
If this principle can be properly understood and implemented, I believe it can help to make positive strides in helping to build a positive culture in your church or organization.
What about you? How are they at work in your church or organization? How has it worked? In what ways does this “make sense” in terms of web technology?