Monday, August 19, 2013

Motivate the Elephant

"Be Kind" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper,
I'm reading Switch by Chip and Dan Heath (the book is great and here's a nice article that summarizes it) and they talk a lot about "the elephant" in a very helpful way.  They combined some interesting research in their chapter on motivating the elephant and created some usable ideas.

The first study they talk about is Crum and Langer's research on exercise and hotel maids.  A group of maids were told that their work was extremely beneficial exercise. They received a document describing the benefits of exercise, and they were also told what specific tasks used which muscle groups and burned what amount of calories.  The control group got only the document about the benefits of exercise.  The women in the first group started to loose some weight.  They became quite enthusiastic about their work.

Chip and Dan paired this research with research done on promotional loyalty cards which documented a phenomenon called "endowed progress effect", which provided people with artificial advancement toward a goal. These people exhibit greater persistence toward reaching the goal, than ones without the artificial advancement. Nice, eh?  (You can read about it here.)

So how it applies to elephant training is this:  Say you want your elephant to start a particular new activity.  Give it an "endowed progress" experience, like the maids who succeeded in losing weight when they discovered they were already exercising.  This motivated their elephants to exercise just that little bit more. They found themselves, in four short weeks, having lost a substantial and sustainable amount of weight which further motivated their elephants.  Elephants need reassurance, motivation and lots of endowed progress!

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