#81 The Survey Says: Surveys Are Amazingly Easy to Manipulate

53% of Americans feel happy.
52.3% of Americans feel UNhappy at work.
67% of Americans feel disengaged at work.

There are so many of these kinds of surveys that it’s hard to keep track of them all. And the number of companies using internal surveys to measure employee engagement is also growing by the day. 


But are all these surveys telling us anything worth listening to?


The answer to that question depends on the subject matter of the survey.

If you’re polling on generalities like overall happiness and satisfaction, unfortunately, you’re probably wasting your time. Here’s why I say this.

Individuals in a study were asked to photocopy a sheet of paper and then fill out a questionnaire about life satisfaction. Half of the folks, upon arriving at the copy machine, found a dime lying next to it. The other half found nothing. 

And guess what.

The folks that found that silly little dime reported being much more satisfied with their life. Ten freaking cents had a material affect on their perception of the quality of their entire life.

And here, according to my favorite Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, is why this is so. This quote is from page 400 of his best seller Thinking Fast and Slow.

“Even when it is not influenced by completely irrelevant accidents such as the coin on the machine, the score that you quickly assign to your life is determined by a small sample of highly available ideas, not by a careful weighting of the domains of your life."

And realize that “highly available” often means recent. Remember WYSIATI from last post - What You See Is All There Is. We are dangerously short-sighted creatures. We have real problems maintaining context and perspective and evaluating macro issues. 

Which is why I’m skeptical of population-wide surveys on these kinds of issues. And why I’d also be careful with internal surveys.

But if you’re gonna do them, and you want to stack the deck in your favor, here’s a 5-step recipe for increased happiness scores.


1) Take a $20 bill to the bank and exchange it for 200 dimes.

2) The next morning, before your employees arrive, stand in the dead center of your parking area.

3) Spin in a circle while flinging the dimes around the lot.

4) Head up to your corner office and watch out the window as the employees find the dimes (note - this step is optional but fun).

5) At your morning stand-up huddle have everyone fill out your happiness survey.

That’s all there is to it. Assuming the research is correct, you’ve just raised your happiness/satisfaction scores. 


Do all the surveys you want. Just realize that they potentially carry a whiff of horseshit. The types of questions you ask, and the conditions under which you ask them, matter a whole lot.

Especially if you’re asking about satisfaction, happiness, etc. These concepts are darn neared undefinable in practical terms, and we suck at knowing whether we’re experiencing them or not. So, even though it sounds bad, maybe you should care a little less about whether your employees are happy or not.

Maybe, instead, you should care a little more about whether they have work to do that challenges and motivates them. Whether they have the freedom and feedback they need to get creative and grow. Whether you’re providing them an aligned environment that is predictable and supportive.

Bottom line, people want to get shit done. If you remove the roadblocks that hold them back, they’ll be plenty happy - whatever that means.

And, you’ll be able to save the twenty bucks and the spinning around in the parking lot.


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

Of course we’re talking about Confronting Wrong Stories yet again. Don’t let yourself get sucked in by polls and surveys that are crap by design. Instead, get yourself and your business Aligned with your Maps. That’s how you create a sincere, consistent, fair environment where the right folks - those that are Aligned with your company’s WHY WE IF CAN - can thrive.

Sounds simple. But if you can pull it off you’ll be one of the few.


Daniel Kahneman’s book - Thinking Fast and Slow - is one of my favorites. He does a great job of explaining how we come to wrong or biased conclusions. And that’s why I’m doing this summer series of posts covering the topics that Kahneman writes about. See the transcript below for a list of prior posts in this series.

# 73 - Being A Jerk Seems To Work
# 74 - A Well Timed Pizza Could Have Changed Old Red’s Life
# 75 - Does Thinking About Money Mess You Up
# 76 - Luck Can Take You To The Top But It Won't Keep You There
# 77 - Do Not Take Business Advice From Dart Throwing Monkeys
# 78 - Is Following This Site Worth Your Time
# 79 - Using Intuition To Make Big Decisions
# 80 - The Dangerous Power Of Stories


I hope you enjoy them.

***Note: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE to get started.