I felt a jolt of electricity when I heard the NPR story, Why You Love That Ikea Table, Even If It’s Crooked. In the first place, I could happily get lost in Ikea for days and, in the second, my teacher persona came out to play. I feel like I am good company too. The Ikea Effect was also taken up this week in a blog post by Andrew Taylor of the Artful Manager. Here are some of my musings.

“Imagine that, you know, you built a table,” said Daniel Mochon, a Tulane University marketing professor, who has studied the phenomenon. “Maybe it came out a little bit crooked. Probably your wife or your neighbor would see it for what it is, you know? A shoddy piece of workmanship. But to you that table might seem really great, because you’re the one who created it. It’s the fruit of your labor. And that is really the idea behind the Ikea Effect.”

The idea that a person might value their own work highly no matter what the outcome (often in stark contrast to the opinions and rolled eyes of those around them) is what I call “mud-pie syndrome”. It is the grown up equivalent of, “here Mommy, I made this for you!”

Hard line mud-piers  are the opposite of those for whom nothing is ever good enough. These people feel incompetent and often quit tasks because they (and this is a direct quote from multiple students over the years) “suck at this”. The I-suckers find themselves totally unable to enjoy the process unless it leads directly to a flawless result.

Recently, I was reading a group thread about teachable students. To me, a teachable student must be able to appreciate both the value of having created something with their own hands and that of having strived for a high mark, so that not only the result, but their total view of music and life grows with every effort. At the same time, they must be able to sit back and enjoy the process, comfortable in the reality that time is required for change to occur. Balance is key.

In pre-college students we have the issue of teachable parents too. When parent and child are at odds on these basic ways of viewing learning, things cannot end happily.  And, that’s as far as I’m going down that particular path.

Much has been written on the connections between praise and self esteem. Too much of the wrong kind of praise leads to an inflated sense of self worth and an inability to acknowledge and use feedback—to arrogance—to unteachability. No praise or just plain abuse leads to an inability to acknowledge and use feedback—to feeling incompetent—to unteachability.

“There is an insidious element here: People made to feel incompetent may be more vulnerable to the Ikea Effect. On the other hand, Mochon has found, when people are given a self-esteem boost, they appear to be less interested in demonstrating to themselves and to others that they are competent.”

So, mud-pie syndrome, aka The Ikea Effect, could be a symptom of either a feeling of incompetence or of an inflated sense of self worth?

Now there’s a paradox for you.

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