Expectation and reward

Recently I've been thinking about expectation. I remember working with some management consultants once and their favourite turn of phrase was: You have to manage expectations.

They kept saying this. Practically it meant they needed to know what could go wrong, allowing them to manage the situation should it happen.

Recently on British terrestrial television there was a popular psychology program and they illustrated how the expectation of reward affects children; and indeed adults. Three groups of children were asked to paint; one group was left to paint, one after a brief period was given a surprise reward for their work and the third group: were told right from the start there would be a reward for painting.

The effects this had are quite interesting and give an insight into human expectation and reward. The group that received no reward painted for the joy of painting. Those which received the surprise reward went back to enjoy the painting, feeling that they were doing a good job. However the group that expected the reward from the start, the reward was the most important thing. As soon as the prize was won, the painting was no longer important.

This goes some way to explain why you might want to focus on what people might expect before an event as it colours how they perceive the result. If you tell someone that something will work, it better.

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