The Ikea effect: accepting change by creating it

In our drive for efficiency and effectiveness, we tend to present finished solutions and ready-made decisions to employees. However well-intentioned, this can have a negative impact on the value people place on change. On the other hand, if you involve people in shaping the future, rather than imposing changes or "selling" it to them, they will value the changes more and take more ownership.
As a result, they will participate in the change more willingly than reluctantly. That's the Ikea effect in action. You can use this to your advantage in organizational change but there are also a number of side effects to consider.


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The Ikea effect: accepting change by creating it

What you made yourself or put effort into, you appreciate more than what was created by someone else. That's the Ikea effect, named after the Swedish furniture chain. Many people think Ikea is successful because they are cheaper, but that is only one part of their value proposition. The second important part is being able to assemble your furniture yourself using a short manual. That increases the value perception.

Ready-made versus unfinished

In 2011, this effect was proven in a study by Harvard, Yale and Duke, which included renowned professor and author Dan Ariely. In the video below you will find an excerpt from his Ted Talk on the Ikea effect. In it, it becomes clear that a ready-made cake mix has less value to the customer than a cake mix that still needs to be finished. Another example is the concept of HelloFresh or Foodbag, which are cooking boxes with a recipe and ingredients tailored to your needs, but which you still have to/can cook yourself. People attach more value to these than to ready-made meals from the supermarket. We have a psychological need to feel competent. If the Ikea effect means that we overvalue our creations, it also means that we are proud of what we produce.

The Ikea effect in organizational change

The application in organizational change is not that difficult. People value what they create. This is as true for work as it is for furniture. In recent years, co-creation has gained in importance as an approach to change. Not just because it is fun or enjoyable, but because employees are involved in the organizational change process and are therefore more motivated, because they have been able to contribute to it themselves. By letting people think about and participate in the change and solutions themselves, the belief in that change increases and more value is attached to it.

The trick is to make the challenge neither too easy nor too difficult. After all, the Ikea effect only kicks in when something is successfully completed.

Labor leads to love only when that labor is successful (Norton, Mochon, Ariely)

Workshops and change design sprints

Cocreation can take place in workshops, but can also take place asynchronously, for example by collaborating online via an idea platform. The role that employees play in change can be large or small. Change adoption will increase the more an employee is involved in the change. This has to do with the sense of ownership. Successful change projects are those in which ownership is spread quickly and widely enough throughout the organization and does not remain in the hands of the project leader.


Hence the importance of teams in organizational change. Change can be ‘managed’ through teams. Let managers themselves get to work with their team on a particular change. Give them the framework, the goals and brief (but clear) guidelines and then let them get to work on it themselves. So don’t draw everything out in detail, but give them the space to further shape the change at their own pace.

This is the approach we choose for the implementation of Soulcenter in residential care. We offer a roadmap, a clear roadmap and clear instructions and examples on how to implement, both for managers and employees. The team itself decides how to proceed. We support them along the way.

Ambassadors and champions

Research into organizational change clearly shows the key role that change agents play in team and organizational change. Change agents are therefore often involved to help implement the change, but it is even better to involve them in the design of the plans and why not also in creating the solution itself if that is possible. Point them in the right direction and then get out of the way.

Ideation process and toolkit

Adobe encourages innovation through the Adobe Kickbox. This allows every employee to play an active role in the company’s innovation process by creating and submitting their own ideas. Since 2015, this concept has been open source. Such a kickbox originally included a 100$ pre-paid credit card, materials and exercises for brainstorms, post-its, a candy bar, etc. The beauty of this toolkit is that it serves to stimulate innovation, but can also be used to shape change.


Did-It-Yourself versus Do-It-Yourself

An important note is that the effect is ‘retrospective’. In other words, more value is placed on the solution that someone has worked on in retrospect rather than beforehand. In other words, the employee does not know beforehand that a co-creation project can bring him or her much value (unless he or she has already experienced some). So employees will first have to be motivated to participate. By working with small, manageable contributions you can also cope with this. It doesn’t always have to be a big deal. Asking for short feedback on ideas can already increase involvement.

Workshops without results?

Another side note is that the Ikea effect ensures more involvement and motivation, but does not necessarily generate better solutions. I myself have experienced enough workshops that I was involved in as an employee or that I facilitated, which were very fun and motivating, but which produced few usable solutions. Sometimes motivation and involvement is the goal and then such a workshop is okay. However, if the goal is to generate good solutions, or a combination, then you need to make sure that there is enough knowledge and diversity and that there is in-depth preparatory work and interim research.

Love baby

A third side note has to do with the sunk-cost effect. This can cause managers to continue pumping money and resources into failing projects in which they have previously invested time and energy, because they truly believe that their ideas have more value than others. These are the love babies, the ideas that you came up with or collaborated on yourself. The further along in the process, the harder it is to say goodbye to them. That’s why seeking feedback on ideas and proposals as soon as possible is so crucial.

Related to this is the not-invented-here syndrome. Managers will (unless they are aware of this bias) reject very good ideas that come from somewhere else in favor of internally developed ideas. Again, because of the same Ikea effect that makes them value ideas they have put effort into themselves more.

The Ikea effect is a very powerful cognitive bias (prejudice). Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of deviation from the norm or rationality in judgment. You can use these to your advantage in organizational change, by providing people with a framework, purpose and instructions and allowing them to make small or large, manageable contributions, so that they are more appreciative of the change and motivated to continue working on it. On the other hand, you have to be aware of the side effects that can occur. So the Ikea effect can give you problems, but if you know how to use it, it can serve you perfectly.


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