Thursday 3 September 2015

Earned Awards are Better than the Ones You Buy

This week, our sons, Sam and Charlie, and I went to the Canadian National Exhibition, known locally as the CNE or the EX.

This annual three-week event is an explosion of rides, entertainment, games, food, agricultural fair and bazaar. For many, it is the last hurrah before school begins and summer ends. For many families, it is a tradition.

Like most of our family traditions, there are things we do every year: the kids magic show (even though the kid years are long gone), sand castle competition and food building.

Another must-do activity that ends our day is the balloon dart game. This is the one where you throw darts at inflated balloons, trying to pop them to win prizes. 

This year I noticed that the game's focus had changed. Instead of it being about the required level of skill to win different prizes, it was about the required amount of money to buy different prizes. The carnie running the game explained:
  • 2 darts for $5 gives you 1 small prize
  • 4 darts for $10 gives you 1 medium prize
  • 8 darts for $20 gives you 1 big prize

But what about the number of balloons we needed to pop to earn the prize, I wondered? As we discussed the options, the woman said she would give us 9 darts for $20. Each of us would throw 3 darts and both Sam and Charlie would get medium prizes. Sold.

We had fun throwing the darts and every one popped a balloon. Definitely prize worthy! The downside, however, was that it didn't matter. If we missed all of our shots we would still have received our prizes. I wondered how that would have felt.  

We spotted other examples of 'prize buying' at the EX. If you bought a hot tub you got a free cruise. The best, and saddest example, was at the Guess Your Weight or Age game; the biggest prize had a $40 price tag on it. It implied that if you were in a rush, you could skip the game and buy the prize. What fun is that?

Other industries can operate this way too. For example, 'pay-to-win' video games, like Farmville, sell prizes that you could earn through hard work and skill. In the professional development industry, some firms sell certification without demonstrated proof of knowledge or skill --"Our three-day program gives you a Change Management Specialist certificate". Bought awards are of little value.

Sam and Charlie had fun picking their prizes. It was a perfect way to end a day at the fair. When their friends came over that night, I didn't hear them say, "Look at what I won." I am glad they have the wisdom to make the distinction.


No comments:

Post a Comment