Break an Egg

Break an Egg


No mother thinks her baby is ugly.

Don’t get me wrong. All new life is beautiful. But, let’s be honest, some babies are just better looking than others… unless the little bundle is yours, of course, in which case, “isn’t she just the most adorable creature you’ve ever seen?”

In his book, “Predictably Irrational” Dan Ariely talks about “The Ikea Effect”. It’s a phenomenon named after a study he and two colleagues carried out that showed how folks would pay significantly more for something they built themselves than they would for the same item built by an expert.

It’s the reason Betty Crocker® instant cake mixes flew off the shelves back in the ‘50s when they changed the recipe to require adding an egg. It’s the reason Build-a-Bear Workshop® brings in a few hundred million dollars every year. It is, I suppose, the reason all the kids in Lake Wobegon are above average.

We OWN what we build.

We COMMIT to what we build.

We LOVE what we build.

So, what might the Ikea Effect teach us as leaders? How might it inform the way we get things done through others in an environment where we are too often a non-scalable bottleneck?

Maybe we start by turning the idea of “vision-casting” on its head. Maybe the best way to get a team of people to bring a new future into being (without waiting for us to take the wheel) is to let them develop the vision and the strategy themselves – or at least to leave a significant percentage of the canvas blank, so that they can step into the process of creating the masterpiece.

“Yeah, but isn’t it our job as leaders to provide the vision for our organization? Isn’t that what they pay us to do?” Of course. Just like it was Tom Sawyer’s job to whitewash a fence.

Giving up this control doesn’t come naturally for most of us. It’s risky and it’s hard. In fact, we have our OWN Ikea Effect in play. We love what WE’VE developed. We love OUR flashes of insight. We love our OWN ideas.

So how do we do it?

Just like getting used to Ikea’s L-shaped hex wrench, it means dusting off a different set of leadership tools. It means replacing presentations with dialogues, telling with asking, pace with pause, and answers with questions.

One of my favorite elements of the Habitat for Humanity experience is that the future homeowner must participate in building the home. The tears shed by the family as the keys are handed over are born of a sense of gratitude, humility, and hope. But I also think they reflect an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and connection to the others alongside whom they have toiled to build their new home.

And that’s the icing on the cake. You know, the one whose recipe requires breaking an egg. By drawing our people into designing and building their own future, we not only develop strategies, products, and processes that have legs.

We also build connections, teamwork, and community.