Have You Been Seduced By The IKEA Effect?

Do you tend to overvalue your own work? Or do you in fact think it is worse than it really is? These questions are examined in an excellent TED talk by Dan Ariely. It is full of great stats and stories about how we value our work, resulting from his very serious research using origami cranes and frogs (truly…). It’s really interesting stuff, worth a look. He is also very entertaining, which is always a bonus when it comes to talking about very serious research.

The thing that hit home for me was the bit about what he calls ‘the IKEA effect’. (Mercifully this did not involve online demos using Allen keys and white particleboard, or even the origami frogs…). It turns out that we (over) value work we have put blood, sweat and tears into, even when it’s flawed – think that lopsided table, or the IKEA bookcase where the back panel is upside down and back to front.

In the writing world, this is linked to the aphorism known as ‘murder your darlings’- the need to cull precisely those sentences in your writing that you love the most. You know, that brilliant turn of phrase, or that screamingly clever little paragraph. My thinking about this has long been that it’s because they make the rest of your writing lopsided, and also they are all about you (and your extraordinary talent) rather than the story you are supposed to be telling. I guess Dan Ariely might gently point out that it may also be necessary to murder your darlings because they may not actually be quite as brilliant as you believe. Sobering thought.

At work, the IKEA effect might include the totally brilliant advice you slaved over for days and days, or that truly great idea you had about solving your client’s case.

I love the idea of the IKEA effect, and I can quite see its application to the workplace. But I want to have a chat to Dan Ariely about one thing that seems to run counter to his research.

It’s this: Some people have a tendency to be harshly critical of their own work (never me, of course…).  This can lead to perfectionism and never being satisfied that a piece of work is finished, or good enough to be sent into the world. It can also mean that we overvalue the words of ‘experts’or others in our lives, and assume that almost anyone knows better than we do.

For me, all this also links into the inner critic. You know, that voice that speaks inside your head, telling you that your work is awful, or that everyone will laugh at your great idea, or that Susie is always better at this stuff than you are, so what’s the point…

So, maybe some of us lean towards the IKEA effect, and others go the other way? Or maybe we are seduced by our own work in areas where we have some confidence, and subject to attacks by the inner critic when we try something new, or which we really care about? Or, are Americans more prone to overvalue their own work and Aussies to underplay? I’m not sure, but it’s intriguing. And the thing that is really important is that you learn to see your work as others see it, whether that requires an adjustment one way or the other.

What do you think?


Joanna Maxwell is a lively and inspiring keynote speaker, accredited coach and trainer, who has long been fascinated by the power of creative thinking and how to harness it to help individuals and businesses. After recovering from her first career as a corporate lawyer, Joanna decided to use the rigour and analytical skills she had learned in a more creative and unstructured environment. She founded her business, Work In Colour, in 2002.

Joanna has survived walking on fire and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and while she wouldn’t necessarily want to repeat either of those adventures, she is a keen traveller with journeys through the Middle East, India, Africa, Borneo, Burma and Tibet under her belt. She is hopelessly addicted to obscure sci‐fi shows like Jericho and Firefly.


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