Friday, June 21, 2013

Overvaluing Our Creations

Image: I luv my Eddite
I luv my Edditer (Source: Blogspot)

How the "IKEA Effect" illustrates why writers need editors 

Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely, in his book The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic, tells of an concept dubbed "The IKEA Effect." Which means that we overvalue what we make. Even when we assemble pre-fabricated parts -- like IKEA furniture. 

If you know anything about Behavioral Economics, it turns standard economics on it's ear. Traditional Economics makes models based on assumptions. It's corner-stone assumption is that economic humans are rational, and calculate the "maximal utility" of  their decisions. 

Of course, even a cursory look at economic history makes this idea suspect. Think of the housing and internet stock bubbles. Or drill down to simpler example. Blind taste-tests show that people prefer McDonald's coffee to Starbucks' brews, yet drop $1 extra at Starbucks. 

Irrational, truth be told. 

So, Behavioral Economics begins by questioning economics' basic assumptions, using experiment instead of theory. Here is a paper from Harvard's Business School that discusses a few such experiments.  

Like all good social science experiments, Behavioral Economists' experiments are set up like a confidence game. The experimenter is the Con Artist. His subject a Patsy.

So Ariely describes an experiment he used to test the IKEA Effect. The people involved are Conman, the experimenter, and his subject, Patsy. Bystander1 & Bystander2 are people Conman recruits straight-men.

The experiment runs as follows...

Image: An origami crane
An origami crane (Wikipedia

  • Conman teaches Patsy to make an origami crane.
  • Patsy creates the crane. It looks okay for an amateur effort. 
  • Conman asks Patsy what she would charge for the crane. patsy replies "25 cents."
  • Later, Conman hails Bystander1, and shows him Patsy's crane. Conman asks what  Bystander1 would pay for the crane. Bystander1 says "5 cents."
  • Conman then hails Bystander2, and displays origami cranes a professional created, which are superior to Patsy's, asking how much Bystander2 would pay for it. They say, "27 cents."
So two things are clear.

  1. Humans overvalue things they make.
  2. Creators value their amateurish production as highly as others value professional products.

Writers, take heed. The IKEA Effect shows why we need a good editor -- or the discipline to discern our own weaknesses. I offer up a before and after example of my current work in progress, Livewire, Voodoo and the Lovestruck Kid (available for free until complete on WattPad). 


She looked to the swing. They’d swung so many hours away, her seated next to Gramps, him tousling her hair as they listened to his tinny, cheap AM radio. Big band tunes, Indians games, Browns games, talk radio; it all whined in the background as they swung, talking about everything and nothing, just enjoying the evening breeze. She was the apple of his eye, he’d always told her. Sure, he spoiled her. Her grandparents, mellowed with age, had raised her. She was denied almost nothing. She got violin lessons, ballet lessons, Cabbage Patch Kids and pretty much everything (except a horse) that she’d wanted. 

After Editing:

She looked to the swing. They had swung so many hours away together there – her and Gramps. He tousled her hair as his tinny, cheap AM radio whined. During commercials, they talked about everything and nothing, just enjoying the company and the evening breeze. 

The moral of the story? 

Let it go; chop away. It isn't that good, and don't get attached to a turn of phrase. It may be bad. So be humble, accept feedback, and heed the old saw "rewriting is writing." And heed the poet Maya Angelou's pithy observation, "Easy reading is damn hard writing." And hammer away.

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