Jigsaw LLC


Why do we keep building “robots?”

— Culture & Observations —

Ironic that Jen is off recombobulating with herself, and here I sit about to start us all thinking about whether there is meaning to our work. Great, either we can have a good discussion, or there could be mass exodus at Jigsaw. I wonder…

Last week I shared an idea I had for a post on whether you are “valued at work” with Addy. She commented that I should read the book that she just finished, The Upside of Irrationality, by Dan Ariely. The title alone intrigued me, since I love the human behavior aspects of this business.

The second chapter is titled, “The Meaning of Labor—What Legos can teach us about the joy of work.” Dan Ariely is a behavioral scientist who has completed many experiments, but this one—in chapter two—I found particularly interesting. A former student had dropped by and told of how crushed he was at a recent occurrence at work. That a presentation—he had poured his heart and soul into—was “no longer needed.” The news was devastating to the young executive. To him, his work had been rendered meaningless. Something the man could not get over.

Dan Ariely commenced to devise and execute an experiment to judge the impact of a person’s work having “meaning” to them.

The experiment was all about respondents building as many Lego Bionicles (the robot kits)—as they felt “motivated” to build. Keep in mind, the participants all expressed a fondness for Legos. And there was a small monetary reward, on a descending scale, for each Bionicle built. Two sets of participants were given the instructions that after they correctly built a robot they would earn the reward, and also since they had a limited number of Lego kits, the robots would be disassembled for the next participant.

There was only one key difference in the experiment:

Control Group A: finished a robot and the moderator placed it, and all that they built, under the table to be disassembled later.

Control Group B: finished a robot and while they where busy moving on to the next robot, the moderator got busy disassembling their work in front of their eyes.

Guess who got discouraged quickly and dramatically?

This experiment promises to teach me a lot about my individual management style and mentorship.
BUT—it begs a bigger observation. That is:

There are a lot of us out here in a business that includes our work getting shredded to pieces on a daily basis—right before our eyes.

On the best of days this business resembles Control Group A—where an idea gets bought, produced and executed. Then after its efficacy runs course, it gets scrapped for the next campaign. BUT MOST DAYS we live in Control Group B— where we are faced with our work becoming meaningless—either in an internal round where it’s not deemed good enough. Or stratigic enough. Or in round one of a client meeting where people don’t get it. Or round two, or three, or four in “committee meetings.” Or in (heaven forbid) testing. What about budget cuts? Or someone saying,”The idea is great, it’s just not feasible at this time?”

I have a pile of immediately torn-apart Bionicle robots twenty times the size of the pile that got the chance to walk and talk, if only for a 13-week cycle. I have been in this business long enough that I should have gotten burned out ten times or more by now. I have watched many, many people get their work torn apart before their eyes—time and time again. Yet, in this business—more times than not, I see the same passion for building the next robot, and the next robot, as I did for the first robot.

Why is that? What is that? I see discouragement on a daily basis here. But then a see it (to coin a bad song) “pick itself up… dust itself off… and start all over again.” It’s not for the money. It’s not something a little rest and recombobulation keeps alive.

Why, in this industry, do we keep building robots? I’ve got plenty of ideas on why I do. I’d rather hear what you have to say.

Steven Wold
Posted by Steven Wold