Wise Old Man

How Rewards Fail

I used to think the best way to motivate a person was to offer him/her a reward. Want your son to try harder in soccer? Give him a dollar for every goal he scores.

Now I am starting to learn that isn’t always the best strategy. There is a lot of research showing why rewards can backfire, but frankly, its not all that exciting.

This story is much more fun…

The Wise Old Man and the Hooligans

There once was a wise old man who lived in a rough neighborhood. One day a group of teenagers came to his house, looking to stir up a little trouble. They decided that every day they would walk past the old man’s house and throw eggs at his front door.

Instead of yelling at the teens or reporting their behavior to the police, the wise old man came up with a plan.

He sat outside his house and waiting for the teenagers to walk by. When they arrived, the old man gave each teen a 5 dollar bill and explained that if he was able to watch, he was happy to pay them to throw eggs at his door. The teens were quite confused but they weren’t stupid. Of course they would take the money and still throw the eggs.

The old man kept this up each day for a week.

The following week, the old man explained to the teens that the stock market had given him a tough week financially and he would only be able to pay them 1 dollar each. The teens did not like this, but still took the money and threw their eggs.

When the third week rolled around, the old man explained that he had gone through another rough week financially, and he could only afford to give out 50 cents each.

This made the teenagers furious and they refused to throw eggs until they would be paid more. The only man apologized and said he didn’t have any more to give. Insulted, the teens stormed off and vowed never to throw eggs at his door again.



Photo credit: Wikipedia