In 1945 Karl Dunker conducted a social research study that showed that rewards do not improve people’s ability to perform. But more importantly in his candle problem study showed that when used in creativity solving, rewards close our brains down to narrow focus which inhibits creativity. Yet, companies continue using reward based management. Don’t!
This picture shows the tools (candle, box of tacks, and matches) the people in his study received. The task was to put the candle on the wall so the wax would not drip on the table. Can you solve the problem?
Half of his subjects were given monetary rewards to solve it quickly and the other half were told they were helping to identify the average time it takes to solve the problem. The people who offered monetary rewards solved it SLOWER than those with no rewards!
This research has been repeated in more ways and more times than probably most other behavioral studies. But businesses have not incorporated it into management practices, possibly because in years past when employee tasks did not require as much creativity as we require of our employees today, it worked. Dunker did a second study where the tacks were out of the box, and the solution was more obvious, and the reward group actually solved the problem faster than the other group. (Have you found the solution to the candle problem? I will give you the answer at the end of this blog.)
Today’s companies require employees to solve more complex problems and find solutions that are not obvious at first site. You want your employees to have a wide view, see possibilities and opportunities, and be quick and agile at pivoting as your market changes. How do you encourage this if you cannot use rewards (or punishment) to get results?
These four things are the keys for improving the engagement of your employees and creating a culture that is primed to succeed:
- Pay people adequately and fairly so money is not an issue.
- Give your employees autonomy and responsibility.
- Help your employees gain mastery in their area of responsibility.
- Create a company that has a purpose beyond profits; a company with a mission to serve something bigger than itself.
It starts with having a strong mission. If you need help finding your mission and creating a company culture to match it you can find a wealth of tools in my Wealth Development Program.
Still wondering how to solve the candle problem? Use the box the tacks are in to place the candle in by tacking the box to the wall. The box wil then catch the wax! Simple, when your mind is not narrowed down by rewards and can see alternatives.