Green Beans and Ice Cream: The Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement Book Summary



I never liked green beans.  I always liked ice cream.  Can you use ice cream to learn to like green beans?

Sure, but you need to know how to apply the power of positive reinforcement.

So, how do you motivate behavior to bring out your best, or the best in others?  Is cash really king?  Do employee-of-the-month reward systems actually work?  How do you really shape the thinking and actions to bring out the best in human performance?

Positive reinforcement.

In the book, Green Beans and Ice Cream: The Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement, Bill Sims Jr. teaches us how to use science to shape behavior and to unlock and unleash our performance potential.

Sims has more than 30 years of experience creating behavior-based recognition programs that inspire better performance.  He’s created more than 1,000 positive reinforcement system programs at firms including Dupont, Siemens VDO, Coca-Cola, and Disney.

Motivation is not a mystery.  It’s well-understood by a science called behavioral analysis.  Of course, you could spend a lifetime putting the puzzle together and testing.

Or, you could leverage Sims’ experience and lessons learned in building positive reinforcement systems that work.

Don’t let the name fool you.  Green Beans and Ice Cream is possibly one of the best playbooks on motivation there is.

Here is my guided tour of Green Beans and Ice Cream

What’s In it For You?

Here is a sampling of some of the challenges that Green Beans and Ice Cream helps you with:

  • How to master using positive reinforcement to shape your behavior and the behavior of others
  • How to be a better leader that both inspires and reinforces better behaviors
  • Learn how the thing that works the best, we do the least
  • How to avoid the most common pitfalls when it comes to rewards and recognition
  • How to understand why some motivation techniques work and others don’t

Chapters at a Glance

  • Chapter 1 – The Little Rebel
  • Chapter 2 – Why Did He Do That?
  • Chapter 3 – Changing Attitudes and Self-Motivation
  • Chapter 4 – Does Punishment Really Work?
  • Chapter 5 – The Church of Here and Now
  • Chapter 6 – Why Does R+Work
  • Chapter 7 – Blinded by the Light
  • Chapter 8 – Why Cash Isn’t King
  • Chapter 9 – The $3,000 Jacket
  • Chapter 10 – Behaviors We Haven’t Learned to Observe
  • Chapter 11 – Why Do I Have to Recognize People Anyway?
  • Chapter 12 – “Stop Recognizing Those Employees!”
  • Chapter 13 – A T-Shirt for a Million Dollar Idea?
  • Chapter 14 – Who Killed the Work Ethic?
  • Chapter 15 – Daughter of the Month
  • Chapter 16 – Most Likely to Succeed
  • Chapter 17 – “You Can’t Positively Reinforce People If They Hate Your Guts”
  • Chapter 18 – Teacher’s Pet Syndrome
  • Chapter 19 – Pink Cadillacs
  • Chapter 20 – CAVE People: One Size Does Not Fit All
  • Chapter 21 – “Business is Behavior”
  • Chapter 22 – Stuff that Rolls Downhill
  • Chapter 23 – “Feel-Good’ Recognition
  • Chapter 24 – Not Another Baseball Cap
  • Chapter 25 – Isn’t a Paycheck Enough?
  • Chapter 26 – Is Cash Really King?
  • Chapter 27 – I Hate My Boss!
  • Chapter 28 – Is it Positive or Punishing?
  • Chapter 29 – Don’t Drink the Pink Kool-Aid
  • Chapter 30 – Chocolate, Vanilla, or Strawberry? The Great Debate
  • Chapter 31 – Empowering Employees is R+
  • Chapter 32 – What Makes a Great Leader?
  • Chapter 33 – Why Green Beans & Ice Cream?


Here are some of the key features of Green Beans and Ice Cream:

  • Easy to read.  It’s a very easy read.  The book is 130 pages.  Some chapters are only a two pages.  Sims writes in a conversational tone, as if he’s talking with you from across the table.
  • Experience.   Sims bakes his experience in throughout the book, and speaks from authority.  He’s not wishy-washy because he has the data, stories, and research to back it up.  He cuts to the chase.  In fact, he quickly dispels some popular opinions, and walks you through why the thinking his flawed.
  • Science.   Green Beans and Ice Cream is based on science and research, not just personal experience.
  • Stories and anecdotes.  Bill shares little stories and anecdotes throughout the book to help make the information real and concrete.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite nuggets from the book …

Thoughts are Behaviors

What if we could shape our thinking, like we shape behaviors?

Sims writes:

“Can we really navigate the murky world of the human mind?  B.F. Skinner, American behaviorist, social philosopher, and poet, once wrote, ‘Thoughts are behaviors we haven’t learned to observe yet.’”

Attitude Follows Behavior

It’s like a slippery slope.  You change behavior, then attitude follows.  That’s the key to culture change.

Sims writes:

“The word culture is often hard to define.  Here’s a definition I like: ‘Culture is a pattern of behavior which is encouraged or punished by the management system over time.’  In reality then, to change culture, all we have to do is change behavior.  Attitudes follow behavior, just as my attitude about green beans changed over time, after my behavior changed.”

Use Behavioral Analysis to Empower Yourself and Others

You can get science on your side to help you shape the behavior more effectively.

Sims writes:

“Since the complex world of human thought and attitude is at present not easily read, we need another tool to understand human behavior, one that we can implement easily in today’s business world.  That tool has existed for more than 70 years.  It’s a science called ‘behavioral analysis.’  Using some simple and easy tools, we can crack the code that reveals why people do what they do.  And we can empower ourselves and others to achieve performance we never thought possible.”

The Most Powerful Tool on the Planet for Increasing Human Performance

What’s the most powerful tool on the planet for increasing human performance?  It’s positive reinforcement.

Sims writes:

“We need positive reinforcement. We cherish feedback confirming that our contributions matter and that we have made a difference in the world around us.  Aubrey Daniels has coined a great name for this: R+.  From now on in this book, when you see the abbreviation ‘R+,’ you’ll know that I am referring to positive reinforcement (of behavior.), the most powerful tool on the planet for increasing human performance.”

Employee Engagement is a Key Driver of Financial Success

How important is employee engagement when it comes to business success?  It turns out that employee engagement is a key driver of every measure of financial success.

Sims writes:

“Employee engagement is the passionate goal of many managers now, and rightly so.  A study by Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson), a professional services firm specializing in human-resources and financial-services consulting, found employee engagement to be a key driver of every measure of financial success.  The study also showed that the actions of management drive employee engagement, or result in its absence.”

The Sweet Spot: Behavior-Based Recognition

What’s the real key to improving human performance?  It’s behavior-based recognition.

Sims writes:

“Most managers have seen the problems inherent in the ‘Employee-of-the-Month’ approach, and so they’ve swung the recognition pendulum to the opposite extreme: one-size-fits-all.  Too bad these managers skip right over the little sweet spot in the middle that I call ‘behavior-based recognition.’”

Don’t Punish Your Best Workers

When you use a “One-Size-Fits-All” reward system, you punish your best workers.

Sims writes:

“So when you use one-size-fits-all systems, you punish your best workers.  How about the CAVE people? Did you just reinforce their bad behavior?  Yep, you sure did.  You effectively said, ‘Hey go out and take more shortcuts, break more rules, sleep through more training, and you will be rewarded just as much as our High Performers.’  And your Average Performers will actually be encouraged to become CAVE people, thinking, “It does no good to work hard around here.  Nobody will notice anyway.  Look at those poor High Performer guys.  What suckers they are!'”

The #1 Trait of Great Leaders

Influence is the most powerful trait of leaders.  It’s the ability to shape the behaviors of others.

Sims writes:

“What Eric alluded to was the number one trait of great leaders: the ability to change the behavior of others. … The true test of every leaders is what their employees do ‘in the moment of choice, when nobody is watching.’  Since performance improvement is every leader’s greatest challenge and opportunity, the art of positive reinforcement behavior change is something every one of us should master.”

There’s No Limit when the Correct Consequences are in Place

Correct consequences unleash unlimited results.

Sims writes:

“I got a phone call from Tom about six months later: ‘Bill, you’ll never believe what we’ve achieved: a total of 1,382 suggestions and $4 million in savings in one year lone.’  I was pleased, but not surprised.  Once the correct consequences are in place, there is no limit to what people can achieve.”

Delayed Reinforcers Fade into the Woodwork

Reinforcement is more meaningful when it’s in the moment.

Sims writes:

“Here are some of the main reasons that these systems fail to produce real behavior change:  The positive reinforcement usually comes at the end of the year, or (at most) at the end of the quarter, which isn’t often enough to change behavior.  Delayed reinforcers fade into the woodwork the minute an immediate reinforcer shows up.  The rewards are uncertain, and frequently one person’s mistake ruins the payout for everyone.”

Reward Behaviors

The only practice that works for the long run is rewarding behaviors.

Sims writes:

“Dr. Fryer’s experiment rewarded students in some groups for results (better grades), and in other groups for behaviors (doing homework, getting other students to study with them).  Only one practice worked: rewarding behaviors.  Rewarding only results produced little or no improvement.  This is not surprising.  Behaviorists have known for a long time that positively reinforcing leading indicating behaviors — behaviors that influence results down the line — is much more effective than focusing solely on the results of past behavior.”

When you add it all up, Green Beans and Ice Cream a powerful book.

You can use this book to improve your business, or improve your life, by shaping and rewarding more effective behaviors.

Get the Book

Green Beans and Ice Cream: The Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement, by Bill Sims Jr. is available on Amazon:

Green Beans and Ice Cream: The Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement, by Bill Sims Jr.