Lispian Random meanderings on whatever catches my fancy


DRiVEI pointed out the great video explaining what truly motivates people before. The book just goes into more details, highlighting research and what it takes to truly motivate people.

The irony of much of the book is that the answer to how to motivate is simply “Get out of the way.” Throw in some trust and you’ll have folks truly motivated. Of course, it presumes that the folks you’re hiring are capable. But if you’re in any type of company that requires intellectual effort, motivated people are not that hard to find. Keeping them motivated is the trick. And most firms fail by simply failing to realize that so-called “incentives” are anything but.

The book is filled with tidbits, such as:

  • “Careful consideration of reward effects reported in 128 experiments lead to the conclusion that tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation … When institutions … focus on the short-term and opt for controlling people’s behaviour they do considerable long-term damage.” (pg. 39)
  • “For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation … is essential for high levels of creativity.” (pg. 46)
  • “… researchers at Cornell University studied 320 small businesses, half of which granted workers autonomy, the other half relying on top-down direction. The businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover.” (pg. 91)
  • “… satisfaction depends not merely on having goals, but on having the right goals …” (pg. 143)
  • “Performance reviews … are about as enjoyable as a toothache and as productive as a train wreck.” (pg. 157)
  • “Real challenges are far more invigorating than controlled [ed: read artificial, enforced] leisure.” (pg. 169)

The gist of it all is that creative people crave autonomy. They might need “direction” but it should come in terms of mentoring, not fixed, hard goals that don’t truly motivate. Enforced leisure, goals, deadlines, etc. imply that someone higher up in the hierarchy knows better, that they have a better grasp of the intricacies of the work being performed or what will make a given individual happiness. It’s rarely the case.

I recommend anyone starting a company read this book. I also recommend anyone at a large firm who’s trying to figure out why their publicly traded firm seems “stuck” to read it, too. The portion of the book that discusses how companies that are constantly providing guidance doing worse — much worse — than those who provide occasional guidance is eye-opening. And once you read it it makes perfect sense. I know from my own experience, the constant jumping to quarterly requirements simply resulted in a staccato performance as we tried to get into step with some random goals as opposed to striving to be the best, to focus on the customer, to provide joy to employees and clients so that strong relationships are built where those clients will repeatedly come back because they know they’re getting more than just a bum in a seat. They’re getting a creative person who cares about their problem as much as they do.

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September 2010
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