By Ian Noble
Having worked in schools all over the world I’ve noticed a pretty disturbing trend. Kids are terrible at colouring in! They’re all over the place. Sections not filled in properly, colours don’t seem to matter - green elephants, pink and blue zebras and what is Rudolph the purple nose reindeer all about? Colours are scratched on top of each other and pretty much every single line on the page has crossed into the zone of no return, which everyone knows was never designed to have colour in it.
And then when they’re finished you see their little smug faces, looking up at you, page held out high into the air, their big excited eyes fixated on your impending reaction and a look across their face that says, ‘look at this masterpiece I just created… for you’. They could not be more delighted with the unrestrained mash-up of colours on the page. And the thing is…
There are a couple of things that are right with this situation. One of which, is the ‘IKEA Effect’. You know exactly what that is. It’s that feeling of unadulterated satisfaction and undeniable love for something, because you made it (even though it might have a fault or six). You created it, you constructed it, you brought to life. You didn’t just buy something of value, you gave something value. Through time, effort and probably a few curse words, you generated value in something which in turn, added a little value to your life. And that felt good.
It’s the same reason instant cake mix struggled to sell in the 1950s - it took the effort out of baking. A home baked cake wasn’t valued in the same way if it was out of a mix. The fix? Manufacturers took the egg part out of the mix and left that up to the ‘baker’. Adding that one extra step of breaking an egg increased the value of the effort, the process, and the cake.
Over 20 years ago Maxine Clark in Missouri cottoned on to this phenomenon and started a company where people could choose what went into their very own teddy bear. Literally. You get to stuff it, put a heart in it and even give it its own smell, and all yours for a small fortune. And not only do people pay it, they rave about it and they love it, all because they got to be part of creating something special and personal.
When we create something ourselves we have a bond with it, a connection. We value that something higher on a personal and monetary level. There are studies that confirm it.
Professors from the University of California, Duke University and the Harvard business school released findings in 2011 highlighting the impact of the IKEA effect. Not only were participants in the study willing to pay more for a product that they made when compared with a pre-made product, but they viewed their amateur creations as having the same value as professionally made products.
Some people might think that’s daft, that it’s a kind of delusion that blinds people to the reality of what they have actually created, but we have to ask whose reality is it that actually matters. Did it matter to the rest of my first year woodwork class that my bird-box was a little wonky and that there were a couple of edges that didn’t match up perfectly? The best response to that question is, ‘Who cares!’ That bird box was going to my home, in my garden, and would only be visible to me, my family and the birds that would call it home year after year. To them, it was perfect, and that’s what’s important.
Does it matter that kids colour in like maniacs, as if the lines are there, merely as a rough guide to be ignored. Yes, of course, unless you’re a psychopath. But it also matters that it’s part of the journey to becoming better and… it matters that we celebrate it.
Imagine being so bad at something that it becomes awesome. Imagine not knowing or even caring how bad you are at something that you completely redefine the parameters of what is good, and not only that, you make rubbish the new great and are proud of it! Mums and dads and grannies and grandads all over the world get on-board with rubbish colouring in as well, gasping and awing at its brilliance and hanging it proudly on the fridge for everyone to see and enjoy like it was the Mona Lisa.
You only have to colour between the lines if you accept that colouring between the lines is the best and most fun way to do it. Who is society to tell us where the lines even are.
Whatever it is any of us do, we get to decide what is great to us and the ones we love, we define what to be proud of. So cross that line, colour wherever and however you want and most importantly, be proud of it.