Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writing and the Ikea Effect

Lately I've stumbled across a psychological phenomenon dubbed the "Ikea Effect," after the mammoth home-goods retailer known for its unassembled DIY furniture. (For those less handy with nuts and bolts, a more apt term might be "Put It Together Yourself," or PITY. Ask me how I know.)

From what I can glean, the Ikea Effect has two themes:

1. We don't put effort into things because we love them; we love them because we put effort into them.


2. We value more highly those things we've had a hand in creating.

Thus, the theory goes, while we may admire the display model of that Swedish Modern coffee table on the sales floor, we love the one in our living room even more because we put it together ourselves. Further, we love it more than our neighbor's identical coffee table, because ours is the product of our own two hands.

First, the good news. Research shows that working with our hands is good for us, mentally and physically. There is much satisfaction to be gained from building something ourselves, a truth we sometimes forget in our convenience-centered world where instant gratification is king. And who doesn't want to be pleased with the results of a project they've slaved over?

The Ikea Effect is good news for writers, too. By definition and by nature, we love to create things out of words, with the page as our canvas, grammar as our paintbrush and words as our palette. We may not charge out of the gate with great enthusiasm for a particular writing project, but as our muscles warm up and we apply some effort, it begins to grow on us. It becomes ours; we take ownership of it. Several sweat-stained pages later, we cross the finish line and understand our work to be the Best Story Ever Written.

Or not.

And therein lies the bad news. Starry-eyed over our prowess with a screwdriver, we may pronounce our coffee table perfect, while a visitor observes a precarious lean, poised to slide a martini glass straight to the carpet. Likewise, we mustn't let the Ikea Effect lull us into thinking that the thing which we've written ourselves is beyond revision, just because it flowed from our keyboard. This is where objective criticism comes in--an editor, a critique group, a first reader who's willing to speak the truth. Because a story published before its time leads to awkwardness all around. And, like a crooked coffee table, everything looks better with some polish.

Have you observed the Ikea Effect in action, in writing or in life?

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

I loved your analogy. I'd never hear the term as you defined PITY but I like it! The IKEA effect is definitely in frequent use in my life and my writing...more often in the latter.