Winning a chance of winning something is not winning something

Clear eh?

I hate this gimmick which is usually exclusive to radio shows and car dealerships. However, today in the company meeting I found out that I was honored with an ‘award’ …which was a chance to win $1000. One person in every office was nominated and we have about 20 offices.


  • The expected value is $50. Seriously, I’m supposed to be excited and motivated about $50?

  • It has no name, no award, nothing to distinguish it. Nothing I can ‘put on a resume’ so to speak. I mean, c’mon. Call it something lame like a ‘high five award’ or something.

  • I appreciate the honor. I really do. However, if you are going to be a skinflint, just give me a damn award. Print it off the printer and don’t even bother framing it. I’ll take an award and be happy about it! Don’t say you don’t know how to do that because you have done it for me 3 times previously. Remember the time I pretty much landed that $500,000 contract by myself because the salesperson quit? The salesperson would have gotten $50,000 for that so I can understand you not giving me a dime or even framing it…but you COULD have at least made sure the ink was full before you printed it.

  • Please, please please knock it off with the attempts at motivation without spending money. Everyone knows what you are doing, it’s not working and you look foolish.

I love my job. I really do. This is the best job I have ever had and the work I do is wonderful. No sarcasm - I love my job.

Too bad the company sucks. Oh well, would rather have it this way then the other way around.

Wait, so… the award is 50 lottery tickets? What?

I think it’s that the best employee or whatever gets $1000 and it is one candidate per office. Buddy here is one of the nominees, but he sees as an award in itself. I dunno. It’s weird. I don’t think he’ll win.

Yeah, but how is the expected value $50? You either win the $1K or not, right? Or is it split equally among 20 offices?

It’s called “probability theory” You could look it up

I didn’t want to mention this publicly, but it’s possible, not confirmed, but possible that maybe, just maybeI might have already won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes

I’ll let everybody know how that turns out.

Thanks. I read far enough to encounter a bunch of bizarre squiggles that I assume are math formulae, but I think I have a shallow understanding now.

Not really sure how the concept applies to the OP’s case, however. Presumably he doesn’t have to gamble any of his own money to be eligible for the $1K, and I assume they’re only giving it away once (and not over and over, like a series of die rolls).

It applies.

The expected value of a $1000 prize you have 1/20 probability of winning is $50.

**BlinkingDuck **got a right to sing the blues.

Our department had a hands on meeting today. In it, our director rolled out a new “employee incentive program”
Once a month there’s a nominating committee for not one, but two fabulous prizes!
Our picture in the lobby.
Lunch with the director. Huzzah!

Can I just eat my lunch at my computer like I normally do?

It doesn’t have to be awarded multiple times for the expended value to be calculated. It’s just the sum of the possible payoffs multiplied by the chance of each occurring. Knowing the expected value, you can determine how much effort or risk it’s worth.

For example, let’s say you had to be present to win $1000 and that you would be 1 of only 2 people eligible to win it. With an expected value of $500, it’ll probably be worth your while to attend. On the other hand, if you were 1 of 20 people eligible, the expected value would be $50 which may be less than the cost to get a baby sitter, pay for parking, etc.

I see. It wasn’t clear to me from the OP that he would need to attend anything in order to receive the money.

I didn’t mean to imply that he does because I don’t know that. I think what he’s getting at is that he can’t get too worked up about an “award” where he only qualifies to win an award with a low expected value.

He doesn’t have to attend anything. That was just part of the example used.

The expected value is just the possible payout multiplied by the chance of receiving it.

For example, the expected value of a lottery ticket is usually around $0.40. That’s why it’s such a bad deal to buy them for $1, because your net expected value on the whole transaction is -$0.60 or so. If I give you 100 of them, you should think “hey, thanks for the ~$40 or so”.

I’d think a number of small awards would probably work better anyway. Sure, $50 isn’t a lot of money, but at least it’s something besides a certificate (and it really should be named). That $50 can be a lot of small luxuries that would be a lot more motivating than knowing you had a chance at a bigger amount of money and it didn’t hit.

I’ve known other companies to run raffles and the like to get people to work overtime in crunch time (normally end of a quarter.) People are already getting time-and-a-half, so having a shot at something else (often some cash or a bit of consumer technology like a game console or an iPad) is nice and not an obviously half-assed attempt at motivation.

Expected value is just a prize divided by the odds of winning it. Let’s say you are getting a divorce, and you and your spouse have net assets of $10,000. In state X, the law states that one partner gets all assets based on a coin toss. In state Y, the law states that the assets are split 50/50.

Since your odds of winning in the first example are 50%, your expected value is 50% of $10,000 - $5k.

Your odds of winning in the second example are 100%, but you can only win half. So your expected value is still $5k.

In the OP’s example, if there is a $1000 prize and 20 potential winners, his expected value is 1/20th of $1000, or $50. If 20 winners were each awarded $50 instead, his expected value would be 100% of $50.

If you are risk neutral, you would value the shot at $1000 equally to the guarantee of $50. Very few people are risk neutral. Some are risk-seeking, and would rather have the shot at $1000. Most are risk-averse, and would rather have the $50, so unless the OP works at Harrah’s or something, the company is fucking stupid.

It sounds like your boss is spending more on motivation than he needs to.

News flash for bosses:
Take all the time you spend thinking about motivational crap (and, I don’t know, leafing through catalogs of “Sucessories”), and put that time into clear communication, healthy supervision, and making sure even minor tasks are worthwhile.* That*'s motivational.

Um . . . wow, Vinyl Turnip. Really let the cat out of the bag in this thread, broseph.

Tell me: will a plane on a treadmill ever take off? And do you have any particular beef with how mortgage interest is calculated?

Randy! Better late than never. I’d offer to buy you a drink, but it’s past last call and you’re clearly in your cups already.