Ever heard about the IKEA-Effect?

Love leads to labor – normally. But what happens when labor leads to love and how’s our perceptions of our own creations and thoughts influenced by that? Maybe you overvalue your own DIY and ideas because we fall victim to a cognitive bias more often than we think. Or shouldn’t it be paradoxical that we are often willing to fork over extra money just to work more?

At first glance it is, but at second glance we succumb more often than we think to a cognitive bias that got its name from one of the largest furniture stores in the world: The IKEA effect.

The IKEA Effect describes how people tend to value an object more if they made it with their own hands – or at least assembled it. The more effort we put into something, the more we tend to like it. This cognitive bias could’ve also been called the Subway effect as Subway is popular because it gives us the feeling that we are making our own sandwiches and as we could also customize it we even feel more like it’s a product of our own labor. And not to mention that it could also be named Hello Fresh effect as well. And do we really like Fondue and Raclette that much or do we just tend to find it more delicious because we have to constantly put effort into it by loading pans or sinking pieces of meat into boiling fat?

The irony of this effect is that clever people are the more susceptible to it – Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory is just one example of a person who wastes tremendous amounts of energy on thinking his own ideas are the most brilliant, because he put so much effort in it.

One of the first occurrences of this effect happened in the 1950s when the first instant cake mixes were invented. But instead of becoming a bestseller, customers ignored it. The manufacturers contacted a psychologist and he had just own odd sounding advice: replace the powdered eggs in the cake mix with the requirement to add fresh eggs – and the sales numbers skyrocketed. But why? Because an all-instant cake mix will make baking a cake way tooooo easy and therefore undervalues the skill and labor of the cake maker. Simply by having to crack a fresh egg and stir it into the finished batter mix, people suddenly felt like real celebrity chefs.

And that’s just one of the 3 main reasons for this cognitive bias to happen: We have a psychological need to feel competent – even if it’s a fool-proof way  like a simple step-by-step-instruction we will feel validated and competent if we achieve the simple task of self-assembling a cabinet.

We also need to justify our effort – if we need to work towards something we just want to believe that there was a good reason for us to invest so much time, sweat and tears. That’s also one crucial reason why lottery winners go more likely broke after a few years compared to people working year after year to finally become a millionaire.

And the third and most natural reason: We like things that are associated with ourselves. Normally, we are confident in our own abilities and also tend to think highly of ourselves. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that – it just leads to the fact that we incorporate the time and effort we put into something into the real value of it.

For creative workers and even the entire creative industry the IKEA effect has some serious pitfalls with negative implications: It often leads to the “not invented here” syndrome which lets people refuse perfectly good ideas developed elsewhere because they favor their own, but often inferior ideals just for the reason that they are internally-developed.

The more we learn to acknowledge that we are prone to the cognitive bias of the IKEA effect the more effective we can mitigate against it. Studies show that over 90 percent of people are unaware of their unconscious bias which ultimately leads to a gigantic waste of awesome ideas because feedback is rejected due to the “not invented here” syndrome, the most severe side effect of the IKEA effect.

As we always tend to see ourselves as reasonable and rational people, we don’t wanna ever feel like we are the kind of person that is willingly agreeing to wasting time and energy over building our own coffee table instead of just getting a pre-assembled one. Therefore we adjust ourselves mentally and decide that our coffee table has a higher value than the pre-assembled one – and this adjustment happens unconsciously because we just want to resolve this dissonance called “effort justification”.

But there’s always a chance to avoid this effect by weighing the cost of the product with the value of your time: With every decision we make we should consider whether we wanna maximize our convenience or whether we wanna minimize the upfront cost. And with every feedback or input from outside declined we should consider whether we just wanna validate that our own ideas are superior or whether we want the best possible creative output for the sake of everybody involved.