Always desire to learn something useful. - Sophocles
Rituals in the workplace can reinforce the behaviors we want, create focus and a sense of belonging, and make change stick. I have gone on and on in the past about the benefits of established rituals and routines for personal productivity – how they capitalize on our brains’ ability to direct our behavior on autopilot, allowing us to reach our goals even when we are distracted or preoccupied with other things. And there are plenty of companies who’ve been smart enough to harness this power. At Google, for example, new employees have a ritual now made famous by the Vince Vaughn/ Owen Wilson film The Internship – they wear beanie hats in the Google logo colors with propellers on top that say “Noogler.” Far from feeling ridiculous, Google employees feel that the ritual of the Noogler hat marks them as part of an exclusive group.
But new research demonstrates that the power of rituals goes even further – they can increase our perception of value, too. In other words, if employees perform rituals as part of their jobs, they are likely to find their jobs more rewarding. And if consumers use a ritual to experience your product, they are likely to enjoy it more and be willing to pay more for it.
Kathleen Vohs and Yajin Wang of the Carlson School of Management at University of Minnesota, along with Francesa Gino and Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, conducted a series of studies looking at how ritual changed the experience of consuming a variety of foods.
In one study, participants tasted chocolate, either ritualistically (i.e., with the instruction to break the bar in half without unwrapping it, unwrap half the bar and eat it, and then unwrap the other half and eat it), or as they normally would.
Those who performed the ritual reported finding the chocolate more flavorful and enjoying it more. They also took more time to savor it, and were willing to pay nearly twice as much for more of it.
In another study, the researchers found the same pattern of results for a decidedly less glamorous food: the carrot. This time, participants used their knuckles to rap on the table, took deep breaths, and then closed their eyes before eating the carrot. And yes, that is weird. But it still made them like the carrots more.
How does ritual increase value? Vohs and her colleagues found evidence to suggest that personal involvement is the real driver of these effects. In other words, rituals help people to feel more deeply involved in their consumption experience, which in turn heightens its perceived value.
This makes a lot of intuitive sense when you consider the success of some iconic brands. Oreos, for instance, aren’t just two chocolate cookies with some vanilla cream inside – the way you eat an Oreo matters, too. As everyone knows, you twist it, lick it, and dunk it.
The Oreo ritual is as famous as the cookie itself – and no small part of why it is the world’s best selling-cookie.
Then there’s Guinness – the best-selling drink in Ireland and a global powerhouse available in 100 countries, with nearly two billion Guinness pints consumed annually. And it all starts with the proper Guinness pour – at an angle, allowing it to settle for two minutes when only three-quarters of the way full, then gently topping off. Guinness fans will fervently swear that a proper pour elevates the stout to heavenly heights and will riot when the pour is botched.
So when you’re thinking about how to market a product, consider how you might add a bit of ritual to the experience. For instance, if you’re selling a state-of-the-art tablet or smartphone with a new high-resolution display, try packaging it with some screen-wipes and make giving the screen “a nightly rubdown to maintain the dazzling display” part of your ad campaign. Customers who are ritually cleaning and caring for your tablet will value it more, and are more likely to become loyal fans of your brand.
Or think about how this might change the way you use incentives, since these results should also apply to how employees value rewards. For instance, if you’re giving them a bonus, don’t just leave the check in their mailbox — find a way to give it to them that involves some formality. The ritual doesn’t even have to make sense – after all, what does knuckle-rapping have to do with carrots? So when doling out rewards or celebrating milestones, get creative. Bang a gong, do an end-zone dance, hand out your own version of the green “Masters” jacket that the employee wears for a week.
Simple rituals like these will make whatever you have to offer – to your customers or to your team – look and feel like more. Wrap it in a ritual, and you will have created added value right out of thin air.
Check out my books Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, The 8 Motivational Challenges, Focus, & Succeed.