Irrational economy

April 1, 2014

I am currently taking a MOOC on irrational behavior with Dan Ariely and my assignment was to solve a problem. I get to choose the problem, use the resources provided, and find a way to fix it. I thought I’d share my problem and my solution with you. I haven’t received my grades yet … so I’m interested to know what do you think of it, and how much would you give me, out of 9 points 🙂

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Having ideas is a problem we all face daily. It doesn’t matter if there are not enough ideas or not enough “good” ideas, the problem remains that everyone needs ideas daily.

Not having enough ideas, or not having the right idea can worry a person so much that goes beyond what keeps him/her productive (Frank, 2011). We need ideas to manage our time, to raise our kids, to use our limited resources. We need ideas to run our businesses, to stay connected, to feel alive. We need ideas to live by, to interpret our public policies, to impose fairness and figure out ways of making the impossible, possible (Surowiecki , 2012)

What if, hypothetically, we asked people about their intention to generate more ideas on a daily basis, Would that imply an increase in the probability of their subsequently engaging in that behavior? Would they actually produce more ideas?

In a number of experiments that asked participants about their intention to engage in various behaviors, they were more likely to engage in those behaviors than participants not asked (Levav & Fitzsimons, 2006).

In one of those experiments, participants found it easier to imagine themselves engaging in a behavior rather than to imagine someone else engage in that behavior (Experiment 1, p.208). I would add, who would admit of NOT having any ideas at all during any given day? Or that their colleagues have better or more ideas then they do?

In the second experiment, it was the framing of the question about intention that was the focal point; weather participants had intention to engage in a behavior (intent condition), the likelihood of not engaging in the behavior (negation condition), or likelihood of avoiding it (avoidance condition) (p.209). In such experiment, we expect similar results of people finding it much easier to either produce more ideas when intending it beforehand (intent condition) or avoid new ideas at all cost (avoidance condition). It would be similarly difficult to represent the negation condition of asking them what was the likelihood of not producing any ideas at all.

Therefore, as Levav and Fitzsimons (2012) clarified, we have evidence that “the simple act of stating one’s intent to engage in a behavior is associated with an increased likelihood of subsequently engaging in the behavior when it is easy to mentally represent or imagine” (p.211). This is good news for the hungry artists among us.


My suggested solution is creating situations in which we can exchange the use of money with producing ideas. What if we pay for some products and services with ideas, and not money. This would instantly shift the power from those with lots of money, to those with lots of ideas. It might also help shift us slightly from monetary market to a social one (Heyman & Ariely, 2004), making us happier (Quoidbach et al, 2010). Consider for example a local bakery that needs creative ideas in packaging, accounting, or using unique ingredients in different recipes. The experiments explained by Heyman and Ariely (2004) can shed some light on how to move our relationship with our baker slightly from pure monetary market into a social one. It’s important to keep those two methods of compensation distinct and not comparable so as not convert a social market into a monetary one by mistake. This could happen simply by converting the number of ideas into monetary expression or a “non-social extrinsic reward” (p.793), but to add it to a “package” option by offering products or services that are not listed in the menu of dollars at all (so as not to compare the number of ideas to a dollar sign). An example of this is: rather than stating the coffee price as either $2.50 or 10 marketing ideas, we offer the following menu:

  1. espresso for $2.50,
  2. espresso with almond croissants for $2.50 and 10 marketing
  3. espresso with caramel truffles for $2.50 and 10 ideas on using caramel in different recipes.


Please note that almond croissants and caramel truffles are NOT offered for any other price.


Any other ideas?



  • Frank, R. (2011, May 14). Why Worry? It’s Good For You. The New York Times.
  • Heyman, J., & Ariely, D. (2004). Effort for Payment: A Tale of Two Markets. Psychological Science, 15 (11), 787 – 793.
  • Levav, J., & Fitzsimons, G.J. (2006). When Questions Change Behavior: the Role of Ease of Representation. Psychological Science, 17 (3), 207 – 213.
  • Quoidbach, J., Dunn, E. W., Petrides, K.V., & Mikolajczak, M. (2010). Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away: The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness. Psychological Science, 21 (6), 759 – 763.
  • Surowiecki, J. (2012, June 4). The Fairness Trap. The New Yorker

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