Dan Ariely who figured this out calls it, The IKEA Effect. Dan is an interesting guy, he is the author of “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone, Especially Ourselves”, and you can see his IKEA Effect blog here: http://danariely.com/tag/ikea-effect/. I learned about this research on NPR’s RadioLab. The IKEA Effect was also listed as one of Harvard Business Review’s “20 Breakthrough Business Ideas for 2009” http://hbr.org/web/tools/2009/01/list-toc .
According to Dan, “Our research shows that labor (disproportionately) enhances affection for its results”. That creating something in part (like partially assembled IKEA furniture) or in whole (like a painting) makes us value it more. The downside of “the Effect” is that sometimes this means holding onto something you’ve invested in beyond its usefulness. The IKEA Effect may also shed light on the reason some people continue to try and fix jobs and relationships long after they stopped working.
You can start preparing your arguments now, but first check out the things around your house that you had a hand in developing. I don’t make all that much stuff, but three items came rather quickly to mind: My hooked rug from a kit, a brown wool vest, and my rabbit, Mystic.
Both inanimate items came to life during my high school tenure – decades ago. The hooked rug kit was purchased at a discount store. The simplicity of its two-color image of Matisse’s “Blue Nude” captivated me. The simplicity was also my undoing. I hadn’t hooked before so I didn’t know that this is an immensely boring thing to do. There was so little color change, so many scuffed knuckles on the canvas web that though it was initially for one boyfriend, I’d gone through three, (and about three years), before it was completed. I finally decided I better just give it to my dad, at least he stayed consistent. Decades later, after toting it from residence to residence, my dad moved again, and this time with the help of siblings, the yellowed, dusty, and badly finished rug (about 22” x 26”) was tossed in the reject pile. I retrieved it. I cleaned it by hand, and hid it folded and unprotected in my office closet. It is important to me though I was no more than a tool in its completion, having had no input or original thought or technique in its execution.
Next is the vest. I decided to knit, also in high school. I’d just learned the basics: cast on, knit, and purl, and realized these skills could amount to something tangible. I bought myself a deep brown skein or two of yarn, and the largest needles known to man and created two panels that I sewed together. It’s blocky and too short, has a couple of missteps and a few unexpectedly long loops. It’s tucked in a closet, never worn, but too valuable to discard, and, too homemade to donate. It is the only article of clothing I ever knit. It’s a keeper.
Comparatively, my friend Wendy knit me a gorgeous multi-cabled sweater, that is possibly one of the most generous gifts I have ever received….and she is an artist with talent that amazes most yarn store proprietors. I decided both of these items need to be preserved/protected for all time. So great is my protective nature of these two, that I will never eat a powdered donut in the vicinity of either. That is a big sacrifice. Now, if I could just find an occasion to wear my vest, I wouldn’t have to justify its existence in our closet.
Does the IKEA Effect translate to living creatures? Absolutely.
Take for example my rabbit, Mystic (aka the Great White Bun, and Baby). Technically, I purchased her at MSPCA Nevins Farm in Methuen almost 5 years ago for $75.
My personal perspective is one I’ve repeated often. A new volunteer told me she’d be too skittish to adopt, but I insisted on seeing her. I sat on the floor in a pen and she came right over and nestled next to me. She was mine. My husband and I adopted her. She came perilously close to dying within months of taking her home, and we fought like mad to keep her with us. She had several vets and specialists consulting, and at times they seemed to throw their hands up, frustrated with their inability to figure out why she kept losing weight and why her eye ulcers would not heal. I worked to gain her trust by holding her on my chest and patting her until she felt safe enough to rest her eyes in the hope that would help relieve her eye ulcers. I rushed home to apply her medications 4x per day, and worked late to make up for time missed at work. Through the concerted efforts of her doctors (esp Dr. Kruse), Jon, Me, Bullwinkle and Mystic herself, she lived and gained weight.
Over that first year, we all spent countless hours and approximately $3-4,000 keeping her alive and dealing with her various illnesses and conditions brought on by her previous neglect. To help pay for her life, I let my car air conditioner remain unhealed throughout an exceptionally hot summer. To put this in perspective, $4,000 is the equivalent of about 53 new rabbits. Mystic is sickly, and we fight to bring her back every time. She got very, very sick again last week, and we rushed her to the rabbit healers (VCA Wakefield) while simultaneously steeling ourselves for the tough decision that might await us there. Over the last few days, I’ve administered medications and nutrient dense gruel multiple times each day, and voilà, she rises again. Sometimes I wonder if this wily rabbit understands the IKEA effect better than I do. Maybe she feels she’s being taken for granted (I had been working long hours) and decides I need to administer a little more labor to renew our bond, like a married couple renewing their vows. In any event, 53 healthy, perfect, adorable, and loving rabbits are not nearly as valuable to me as the one slightly irregular Baby we have in our midst. And no one, who has not been part of the process understands why, except Dan Ariely.
And so you don’t think this is just a story about a girl , her vest and her rabbit, consider this: Could the research be pointing to a golden opportunity where we can love anyone or anything if we invest the time? Or on the more practical side, think of the marketing applications (if they build it, they will love it), Build-A-Bear did. Happy Easter, everyone.
©2013 by Alison Colby-Campbell