Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lost is an incentive problem

Back in 2010, we spent Thanksgiving with the family of good friends of ours. One of the things about that experience that appealed to our children, well to all children, was that their house was basically from a fairy tale. Here is what I wrote at the time:
... candy was freely available. It was everywhere. Lollipop displays, bowls of M&M's and some Swedish red fish that now rates in their eyes as one of the greatest culinary creations in human history. To wit, when a discussion turned to what people might have as a last meal my daughter resolutely stated her menu of "chocolate, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and those red fish." I could see my son looking around in wonder and then feeling the walls to see if they were made of gingerbread. 
Suffice it to say, for parents of the actual grandkids whose grandparents live there, this house represents an issue. Unfettered candy access has consequences that usually require restrictions. Lots of rules limiting the amount that can be consumed all the while it is paraded in front of them by a doting grandmother. Neither the children nor the grandmother much enjoy that regime.

That is all by way of preamble to the story for today that involves said family. As it turns out, in conjunction with Thanksgiving 2011, that family was to head off a couple of days later on an international trip. Their son had a passport that had expired and also, "had gone through the wash." So they had got him a new one just prior to Thanksgiving. 

Not surprisingly their son was quite enamoured of his new passport and wanted to take it to school. Of course, his mother, being a sane person, said, "absolutely not." Sadly, she did not go the extra step and make sure the passport was returned to a safe place. Suffice it to say, as you might expect given that I am writing this, the passport was missing on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, securing a replacement was not a trivial exercise right at that time. They had searched their house high and low. For hours. They had even dumpster dived through the garbage. But the passport was not to be found.

So she happened upon an idea; an idea that sits very well with this blog. There is an old piece of wisdom that goes something like this.
Nothing is ever lost. All you have to do is find the person who knows where it is and give them the right incentives to tell you.
This applies to keys, documents and pets. And it obviously would apply to a passport. So she offered her two children a deal: "if you find that passport in the next 10 minutes, you can have one day completely free of my restrictions at your grandmother's house." In other words, laissez faire, freedom, gluttony or whatever you want to call it.

The passport turned up in five minutes. As it turned out, the son had placed it in his "safe hiding place" because it was so important. Then he forgot about it -- lest, I guess, the bad guys were thinking of torturing it out of him (perhaps by sitting him in front of a bowl of candy and not letting him eat). 

The trip went on. The kids ate until they were sick. And their grandmother was happy. A strong welfare improvement.