Why call it Goldilocks effect?

Goldilocks and the three bearsThe Goldilocks effect is named after Goldilocks, the girl from the fairy tale about Goldilocks and the three bears.  In this tale, Goldilocks stumbles into the house of three bears. She finds the bears’ food and beds, but the food is either to hot or too cold and two beds either too big or too small. One meal and bed however is ‘just right’ for Goldilocks. Therefore finding a middle ground between two extremes is referred to as The Goldilocks effect or alternatively The Goldilocks principle.

The Goldilocks effect applied

the goldilocks effectNow, what the hell does all that have to do with management, motivation or how you run a business? Well, if you are training people, motivate them or try to keep them invested in a task, you have to make sure that what they do is just the right amount of challenging. It can’t be too easy because that will bore people. Neither can it be too difficult, since that would lead to dissatisfaction and people would give up. Therefore it is crucial to find the middle ground between those two extremes. This is where The Goldilocks effect becomes relevant. What you have to find are ‘Goldilocks tasks’, tasks that hit exactly that sweet spot between too easy and too hard.

These Goldilocks tasks are the ones that make people stretch. They lie just enough outside your comfort zone to push you a little bit and force you to improve, but they are still within reach and don’t seem unattainable.

The importance of Goldilocks tasks

Especially in modern motivation principals, The Goldilocks principle is mentioned frequently. When trying to motivate someone, it is crucial to give him or her the feeling of constant improvement. If a task is repetitive, it soon becomes boring. Only the ongoing positive feedback of acquiring new skills can guarantee an ongoing interest in the task.

This striving for new skills in turn is the essence of the quest to mastery. You can only achieve mastery if you keep going from one challenging (not too easy, not too hard) task to the next, slowly building up your skill set and continuously improving.

Daniel Pink, the author of “Drive”, mentions Goldilocks tasks as one of the most relevant components in creating a work environment that allows high-skilled, intrinsically motivated, creative people to fully express themselves. Exactly because they are so detrimental to the the way we usually work and motivate in companies, they work so exceptionally well. Goldilocks tasks are not chores, but rather fun and exciting challenges that have to be mastered to reach the next skill level.

The Goldilocks effect summed up

The Goldilocks effect – or Goldilocks principle – describes in business the tasks that are just the right amount of challenging. They are neither too hard nor too easy and therefore allow people to reach a ‘flow state’, a state in which they can work without boredom or anxiety. This constant stretching that new challenges bring allow employees to keep developing themselves and their skills and keep them engaged in their work. The Goldilocks effect should therefore be taken advantage of when trying to motivate, inspire or challenge people to keep improving. It is an essential tool for anyone who strives for mastery.


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