How Ikea and Ben Franklin can improve your December holiday season

Make people work a little

Watching my school-aged children build Ikea nightstands last weekend reminded me that you can utilize behavioral economics and communication research to make December gift giving less painful — even if you hate December gift giving and regardless of how you feel about Santa.

The Ikea Effect

Before we continue, you should probably know: I love shelves in general and Ikea Kallax Shelves in particular. You know the ones I’m talking about, right?

The Ikea effect is an observation that people like things they build more than th same thing they didn’t build it. I prefer the particle-board-and-laminate shelves I built over the premade ones. It might be vanity, and/or it might be the feeling that all that time — so. much. time. — must have been worth spending, right?

If you’re reading this Substack as a business leader and not as a parent, you probably already know that the IKEA effect is used in business all the time. Beyond IKEA’s use, many businesses allow you to customize your product to your exact specification. This is the primary appeal behind the Build-a-Bear Workshop (love ‘em or hate ‘em). You picked it, so you must like it, right? (Caveat: You can’t have too many options. Just a few.)

We can utilize the Ikea effect on parents by enlisting family members in age-appropriate ways to … do work! They can design things, make choices, plan things, build things, all sorts of effort works. And I’m not the first person to consider the IKEA effect on parenting. This study investigates whether having kids help make dinner causes them to try more vegetables, for example. And it does!

The Ben Franklin Effect

The Ikea effect is related to the Ben Franklin effect, which you can also use to your advantage as a business leader or as a family leader.

Once someone helps you, their brain has to find a reason they helped you. “I must like that person to have helped them,” your brain says, to help avoid the cognitive dissonance of having helped someone they don’t like. The Ben Franklin effect creates liking through effort, similar to the Ikea effect, but instead of being about the product you make, it’s about the person you serve with your efforts.

Franklin himself said it best:

How to Use the Ben Franklin Effect to Build Relationships | The Fourth  Revolution Blog
“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” — Benjamin Franklin

tl;dr — You can help people feel happier about inanimate objects and other people by adding a little bit of reasonable work to their plates. Pretty neat, huh?

In culture

  • Do you remember the touching Worlds Apart Budweiser commercials like the one above? If not, I really recommend watching them. In them, people who stated opposing identities (such as I’m a feminist / I hate feminists and feminism; I am transgender / I think transgender is fiction, etc) were brought together. They were given instructions for how to put some seating together. By the time they were done building simple furniture, they had already established a rapport that was enough to overcome their deeply- and long-held divides. It’s an amazing demonstration.

  • In the Biblical story of Isaac and Rebecca in Genesis, where it says, “And Isaac took Rebecca home, and he married her, and he loved her, and found comfort after the death of his mother.” (Genesis 24:67). The common interpretation of this line is that he married her first and then he loved her because of the effort he put into building their relationship. He grew to love her. (The story is told from his perspective because of course it was.)

IDWAI: Build Ikea furniture together?

Each Friday newsletter will include an Incredibly Dumb Weekend Activity Idea (IDWAI, pronounced “I-D-Why!?”) in support of the concept in that week’s newsletter.

Younger kids:

  • Obviously, have them cook with you this weekend. Ideally, if they’re old enough, have them lead the effort and help one another achieve their goals. This type of project works great with a cookbook for kids.

  • An old favorite from preschool teachers everywhere: Have kids help to make the rules at home. Have them decorate a poster with the rules. They’re more likely to follow rules they create.

  • Have them create scavenger hunts and other activities for one another or for you to do.

  • More generally, have them help you solve problems. Can’t figure out how to get the kids to put the toys away? Ask them where they think the toys should go.

Teens and tweens:

Adults (maybe sometimes more serious and less silly):

  • Professionally, consider asking for help from someone you admire or want to work with. Their Ben Franklin Effect may help them feel more warmly toward you after they help you, particularly if that help is advice-giving.

  • When you make a proposal to a potential client, don’t submit a final proposal. Submit a draft and ask the primary contact person at the client organization to submit their proposed changes before it goes to the final decision making person or committee of people. If Chris helps you finalize your proposal, it’s not just your proposal anymore. It’s your and Chris’s proposal. Chris naturally fights for you. And even if Chris doesn’t, your proposal will be better with the input of an insider.

  • Personally, consider if there are people distant to you with whom you’d like to share a closer relationship. Have you ever considered asking them to do something for you? May also work at awkward holiday dinners.

  • Is there someone distant in your life you want to feel more warmly towards? If they’re not a person you’re already giving to, consider doing something for them. You can manipulate your own cognitive bias, and I find it fun to try.

For the December holidays: If you are giving gifts, give gifts that require people to work to build them — and/or give communal gifts that require communal effort to enjoy. It’ll make them more satisfied with the gift and, we hope, a little happier about one another.

Do you have any ideas for ways to bring people closer to their finished product or one another through shared effort?

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