Strange to read such similar books back to back, but doing so highlights how much better Payoff is than the similar Drive I reviewed in my last CBR post.
Both are short explorations of what motivates people, and how the simple answer (money) is often not the correct one. Payoff is even shorter than Drive was, having stemmed from a TED talk, but it feels more fully realized than the longer book as Ariely explores the same topic more thoroughly. He’s an engaging writer, and connects the abstract ideas of motivating factor to vivid concrete examples. When he discusses the impact of a large project being canceled on the engineers who had invested their time and energy into its success, he uses the metaphor of Sisyphus (or its modern equivalent, Robert Redford in The Last Castle) to illustrate how the work isn’t demotivating, but realizing it was all for nothing is. When one chimes in, “so we’re basically working in a prison movie,” anyone who’s had a frustratingly unproductive day at work can relate.
Another vivid passage depressingly applicable today: “A society without trust isn’t a society, it’s a collection of people who are continuously afraid of each other.” What a human passage from an expert in a field almost synonymous with capitalism.
Like the last book though, this one leaves you wanting more, and I was disappointed by the brevity, but as always, if the worst complaint of a book is that there isn’t enough of it it’s essentially praising with faint damnation. Hope Ariely has new a full length book out soon.