The Continuum

I was watching Nancy Etcoff talk on TED about happiness. The subject is, for obvious reasons, of interest to me, and I found it quite entreating. But one part of the talk really spiked my interest.

During the 7th minute of the talk, Etcoff talks about the fact that contrary to common belief, happiness and unhappiness are not on the endpoints of a single continuum. They are not on the same scale. Happiness is not simply absence of misery. There are actually two different continuums for each of these categories. Or as Etcoff says it, as you get less miserable you don’t become happy, you become less miserable.

This is a simple yet very powerful idea. But then I said to myself, haven’t I heard this idea before? Off course I have.

According to the Two-factor theory (also known as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory) job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently of each other. Two Factor Theory states that there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction (Motivators, e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility which give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth), while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction (Hygiene factors,e.g. status, job security, salary and fringe benefits, which do not give positive satisfaction, although dissatisfaction results from their absence. These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary).

In the book “First, Break all the rules“, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman explain what Gallup found about costumer’s satisfaction and dissatisfaction. You guessed it. They are different. Granted, here they are not on a different continuum, but according to the book, costumers have two expectations that determine their level of dissatisfaction: accuracy and availability, and two different expectations that determine their satisfaction: partnership and advice.

The implications of each if these separately are profound in each field by itself. But put together, they produce something even bigger. Our tendency to think about phenomena as a continuum. This tendency might actually be wrong. And I ask you – what other tendencies do we have that our wrong? How many mistakes we do every day, because of our underlining assumptions? When is the last time that you conducted an exercise with the sole purpose of challenging your assumptions?  It is a difficult exercise, but it is worth it.


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