The thrill of the hunt

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Chris Bailey at the Alchemy of Soulful Work has an interesting post based on his reading of an article in the Harvard Business Review's issue for January 2006 called Decisions and Desire by Gardiner Morse about what goes on in our brains that causes us to make decisions the way we do. Here's a snip from his post:


    Morse addresses some of the why behind our attitudes toward money in our careers. Whereas an economist might argue that people work because they place value on the things that money can buy, a neuroscientist could argue that "chasing money is its own reward." Apparently, we have a region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens which is where our desires originate. In an experiment, scientists observed the reactions of test subjects who were presented with the prospect of receiving money. The higher the potential monetary reward, the more active the accumbens became. However, once the money was received, activity in this area of the brain ceased which led researchers to conclude that it was the anticipation rather than the actual monetary reward which aroused the subjects.


Which makes sense to me—it's the pursuit of the goal, not the goal itself, that's gets our accumbens all in a tizzy. Once a desire is fulfilled, it no longer is a desire, right? Which is why incentives work so well to motivate employees. It's the anticipation, the working toward a goal, the competition that gets people jazzed. The reward, be it money or a trip to Peru, is great, and the bigger the reward, the more we want it. But once we get it, the thrill of the chase is over, and we already start thinking about the next incentive. I saw this in action on an incentive trip I went on to Banff a few years ago. It was fabulous in every way, but even at the opening reception, winners already were wondering about what the next trip would be, and what they'd have to do to qualify for it. The brain is an interesting thing, isn't it?

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