I’ve been meaning to read Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist since it came out a decade ago. Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University who describes himself as a “curious intellectual nerd polymath.” He also runs marginalrevolution.com, arguably one of the best economics blogs.

While I was intrigued by the subtitle “Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist,” I was put off by the mixed reviews. I finally prioritized the book for two reasons:

  • I was looking for fresh advice for how to make corporate meetings more productive.
  • I have been thinking of turning my own blog into a book and wondered if his book would provide any inspiration.

My verdict? Not surprisingly, the subtitle is a form of clickbait. The topics are interesting; there are discussions about the impact of incentives; but, in the end, there isn’t that much practical advice. Furthermore, his blogs don’t translate well into book format. As one reviewer said: “Sometimes, a bunch of appetizers does not make a meal.”

His meeting advice exemplifies the limitations of the book. While recommending requiring an agenda ahead of time is reasonable, his suggestion of removing chairs from a meeting room so people will be incented to end the meeting more quickly is more of a gimmick than a sustainable solution. And his big idea is almost laughable: have all participants wear body sensors so they can anonymously signal their boredom. When everyone is bored, the meeting ends.

Nonetheless, reading the book wasn’t a waste of time. Cowen provides some recommendations on resolving the longstanding debate between Cash and Non-cash Rewards. He suggests offering monetary rewards when:

  • Intrinsic motivation to accomplish a task is weak, or
  • Performance is highly responsive to extra effort, or
  • Receiving money for a task produces social approval.

That is good advice. Using those rules, maybe I should have paid to review the book.

This blog was originally posted on Manage by Walking Around on June 26, 2016.

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