The IKEA effect: Why we like our own work best

Find out about our strange tendency to overvalue our contributions.

3-minute read

The IKEA Effect is the tendency for people to overvalue what they create. The term itself came out of a series of creative, fun experiments conducted by behavioral economist Dan Ariely and his team. 

The experiment:

Ariely and his team randomly assigned participants to build some origami - a frog or a crane. Each participant (aka builder) was given instructions, origami paper, and endless time. 

After each builder completed their work, the researchers asked if they were interested in buying their creation back (it technically belonged to the researchers who were paying the subjects for their time). The range was 0-100 cents. 

On average, the builders were willing to pay $0.23.

Then, away from the builder’s doting eyes, the researchers asked external observers (who were blind to the builder’s identity and bids) to provide their own appraisal of the origami masterpieces. They did this to measure the gap between market value and builder’s perspectives.

On average, the observers were willing to pay $0.05.

Builders loved it 5X more than the observers!

Ariely and his team repeated this experiment, but this time they made it harder for some groups by hiding the origami instructions! This meant more effort and really ugly origami. The results showed that builders were willing to pay even more for their pieces and observers even less.

The implications:

It seems we don’t just do things we love; we love the things we do. Doing our own work taps into a need to feel and appear competent. This can backfire when we overvalue and become irrationally attached to our ideas, but the positive takeaway from this study is that you can make this bias work for you. 

How to leverage the IKEA Effect at work:

  • Give clients choice and options for how best to work with your services. 
  • Encourage managers to give autonomy and ownership to their direct reports.
  • Coach direct reports to solve their own problems. 
  • Give people the power to choose and drive their own initiatives.  
  • Give one another feedback (so we can test our perceptions against reality).  
  • Co-create aspects of culture and team experience (e.g., task forces).

How about you? What are some other ways you can use the IKEA Effect (or prevent some of its negative consequences)?