Guest Speaker Series – Dan Ariely’s Ted Talk

May 4, 2021

People understand that meaning is important, but they don’t understand the magnitude of its importance.

This week,’s co-founder, COO and Ted Talk enthusiast, Chris Ritson, based our Guest Speaker series talk around Dan Ariely’s Ted Talk: What makes us feel good about our work?

It may seem like a simple question and you might think that each person might have a different answer, but Ariely (a Professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University) had a much more interesting take on the subject.


The importance of meaning

Ariely starts the talk by detailing a behavioural experiment he carried out in which participants were asked to build Lego toys.  To motivate them, participants were paid for completing each toy, starting at $3.00 and decreasing by 30 cents for each consecutive toy until they decided to stop.  In one participant group, Ariely would put the finished toys in a box, and would tell them that the toys would be dismantled later; he called this the ‘Meaningful’ group.  In the other group, Ariely would take the toys apart in front of the participants just after they had finished putting them together; he called this the ‘Sisyphus’ group (named after the Greek myth).

If the ‘Sisyphus’ group put together 7 toys on average, how many do you think the ‘Meaningful’ group put together? Ariely put this question forward to another group of participants.  They guessed ‘one more’, but the real answer was four more! 

Ariely concluded that:

“People understand that meaning is important, but they don’t understand the magnitude of its importance.”

The Ted Talk ends with Ariely presenting his revised model of labour. Instead of the traditional model of: 

‘Motivation = Payment’

Ariely’s is:

‘Motivation = Payment + Meaning + Creation + Challenge + Ownership + Identity + Pride + etc’


Drivers of employee engagement

So Ariely showed us the importance of having meaning at work, but how can we apply this to our everyday working life?  Chris then introduced us to the 14 drivers of employee engagement, listed below:

  1. Accomplishment
  2. Autonomy
  3. Environment
  4. Freedom of Opinions
  5. Goal Setting
  6. Growth
  7. Management Support
  8. Meaningful Work
  9. Organisational Fit
  10. Peer Relationships
  11. Recognition
  12. Reward
  13. Strategy
  14. Workload

Our motivation will fluctuate depending on these 14 drivers.  So it is important to think deeply about which driver is affecting our feelings when we feel demotivated and take 5 minutes at the end of every day to think about how we feel. The result is not only that we will be more aware of ourselves, but we will also be able to give constructive feedback to the people who can resolve those drivers. And this is the key to how we can make sure that we do feel good at work!

Unsurprisingly, Chris’s final tip for us was to “watch lots of Ted Talks”

Trevyn is our Onboarding and Project Executive here at, she is very much the glue in a lot of what we do!

She lives in London and has a passion for design, art and architecture. She has a BA from Brunel in Industrial and Product Design and an MA in Material and Visual Culture from UCL.

In her spare time Trevyn can often be found caught in a good book or visiting one of London’s artistic hotspots.

Ready to talk? Get in touch today