Sisyphus Effect

Within Greek myth, King Sisyphus was cunning and conniving. He constantly challenged the gods, and, at times, won the day. There are many tellings of his story. In the most well-known, Sisyphus believed his cleverness surpassed even that of Zeus himself. Then, the thunder god punished the King to push a boulder up a steep hill. There was only one problem. This was an enchanted rock. When it almost reached the top of the hill, it would roll back down the mountain. Thus, the King was consigned to an eternity of pointless frustration. 

The Sisyphus Effect illustrates how employees within large organizations, folks at home, creatives, or anyone who struggles if they see absolutely zero value in a task. In a study, college professors gave participants the task of building lego structures. Upon completion, the first group was congratulated. Then, they were asked if they wanted to build another structure. Most agreed. However, after the second group completed the same task the professor destroyed the castle.

If I was in said study, I’d be a bit miffed here. Yes, most in this group chose not to continue. As silly as this exercise is at face value, one has to think through the implications:

  • Do you give feedback or just assume folks know how pleased you are with their work? At home, work, or school?
  • How often do you give acknowledgment of others’ awesome efforts?
  • When was the last time you micromanaged a task or project?
  • How do you motivate a team to succeed? Do you push through power or by finding intrinsic motivations?

Sometimes, it’s easy to walk right past those rolling boulders in your own house.


  • The picture is from Beehive Trail inside Acadia National Park, which is known for its granite. And yes, big hills and boulders too.