Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

Motivation and the Survival of the Fittest

March 7, 2011

I’ve watched this Dan Pink video on YouTube, illustrated by RSA, many times.  The video is often used in Agile courses to illustrate that we are not motivated as simply by the carrot and stick as previously thought, but may do better work when self-directed.  Pink refers to studies that have proven this, studies carried out by the likes of MIT and Carnegie Mellon.

In the video, Pink does not go into much detail about the animal instinct to survive and how that plays into our motivations.  He’s focused, really, on the working environment.

Lately I’ve interacted with someone a bit conservative at work and this person would not agree with Dan Pink.  His viewpoint, rather, is that we all have an animal instinct to survive and it is this instinct that causes people to have the motivation to cheat, steal and generally be untrustworthy when it comes to work.  His is an argument against the self-directed model of Agile and for the command-and-control methods that are more waterfall-like.  If you don’t complete the task I give you, then I will beat you with a proverbial stick (yell at you, not give you a raise, etc.)

And I know I’ve observed that more selfish side of our nature within the context of work.  I’ve had my employees lie to me before in small ways to get what they want.  For instance, once someone wrote me a long email about symptoms of an illness in order to get an extra day of vacation on a tropical island.  Later I overheard that person talking and discovered the incident was, in fact, untrue.

So I searched around on YouTube figuring someone has had to think about this side of our nature specifically in terms of how this might affect our ability to work in teams, what it means for leadership and how leaders relate to teams, and so on.

I didn’t come across exactly what I was seeking, but in the search, I  found the video below, for TED, in which Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely talks about “Why We All Think It’s OK to Cheat and Steal (Sometimes).”  Now, what’s even more interesting is that (I think you say Professor?) Ariely has had a true life-and-death, survival event. He was caught in an accident when in the Israeli army that gave him burns over 70% of his body.  He talks about this below in relationship to the fact that we all need to *test our assumptions.*

The second video featuring Professor Ariely, for FORA.TV, is “We’re All Predictably Irrational.”  In both of these videos, Professor Ariely references studies that he’s undertaken that had interesting results, results that are not what we might assume they’d be.

OK, so both of these thinkers, Ariely and Pink, question the conventional wisdom about “how we are wired.”  Now let’s hear other viewpoints about how we are wired.

In this Huffington Post article, End of War VS Animal Instinct to Survive, David Ropeik (also author of How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts):

One of the things those initial changes do is magnify the power of instinct over reason as our response to the risk continues. We not only use instincts first and thinking second, but in an ongoing risk response, we use emotions and instinct more than reason. Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, who helped pioneer the research that identified the amygdala as the part of the brain where fear begins, says of the neural systems that control our response to risk, “While conscious control over emotions is weak, emotions can flood consciousness. This is so because the wiring of the brain at this point in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than the connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems.” (p. 19, the Emotional Brain,

This leads me to believe that in a study, which is what Pink and Ariely reference in their videos above, participants may not have such a sense of risk because, well, it’s “just a study.”  I don’t know this, but I question it.  You’re not going to lose your job if you don’t succeed in either of the tests they conducted.  There’s not that much at risk.  I also wonder about the age of the study participants.  Do younger people have “less to lose” because they’ve not spent years building up a life?

Perhaps it is hard to predict when we’re going to think there’s a lot at risk. For instance, we may view not responding to a Blackberry message instantaneously as contributing to a possibility we could lose our jobs. In fact, in this article, Time Magazine’s Dalton Conley talks about why we jump to read the latest message from our Blackberries.  He says:

We have separate circuits, it turns out, for top-down focus — i.e., when we set our mind to concentrate on something — and reactive attention, when our brain reflexively tunes in to novel stimuli. We obviously need both for survival, whether in the wilds of prehistory or while crossing a street today, but our saturated media universe has perhaps privileged the latter form and is wiring our kids’ brains differently. “Each time we get a message or text,” Anthony Wagner, one of the Stanford study’s co-authors, speculates, “our dopamine reward circuits probably get activated, since the desire for social connection is so wired into us.” The result, he suggests, could be a forward-feeding cycle in which we pay more and more attention to environmental stimuli — Hey, another text! — at the expense of focus.

I also saw an article, but I’ve lost it, that talked about studies showing we react to the new more quickly than focusing on the old information.  But haven’t re-found that article. Will update this post if/when I do find it.

In any case, people also may be worried that “someone more connected” might climb up higher on the corporate ladder, as Mickey Meese writes here for the New York Times.  As a result, we want to react right away.  We don’t want to be thoughtful and wait to think things through. It must all be super-fast.

So why am I connecting all of this information?  Because I think what it all shows is that we have to create custom solutions for circumstances.  Some people will have had life experiences to cause them to react in what appears to be a very cold and selfish way; others will be able to perform communally. This will affect how Agile teams can work.

I still have to figure out another piece of the puzzle, and this relates back to the Big Idea and the Master Creative Mind.  And that is how leadership plays into all of this.  Are we all possible leaders?  Or are some just born, “hard-wired,” to lead and others to follow?  How does this work within an Agile, “self-directed,” context? How can I create a workflows that function most efficiently as a result of all of this?  Do we have to have leaders? More to explore.

Inspiration vs Laziness

February 22, 2011
Prayer Flags - Wind Horse

Lung-ta - Wind Horse - Prayer Flags

“Inspiration” for ancient people meant being filled with the breath of the divine, animated, full of life. The etymology traces back to the Ancient Greeks and has the connotation of the Sybil of Delphi, who forecast the future once Apollo had breathed the divine within her. Similarly Himalayan Buddhists talk about “rLung” which loosely means “wind” except in this case Mind rides the Wind (the Breath) like a rider and horse.  This is not in the sense of ordinary air that fills our lungs, but a sort of energy keeping us healthy and alive.

Lately I’ve not felt that inspired and could almost say I had a moment of boredom teetering on discouragement with the puzzles I’ve been trying to unravel. Such moods might be attributable to laziness, possibly resulting from when you actually get to a place where you have to thoroughly sift through lots of details.

Fortunately @saritabhatt introduced me to some interesting work that sparked mind to think again. Inspired. Although still probably not the details we need to get to.  For now here are two decks.

The first is from Goodby Silverstein (an ad agency in San Francisco) and really digs out the issues agencies are facing. One thing they take for granted in the deck, though, seems still to be the “Big Idea” (which by the way, was partially at the root of the laziness I went through for the past days – but more about that later).

View this document on Scribd

This next deck, by Facegroup, a London-based planning agency, talks about “agile branding.”  These guys take on the “Big Idea” and talk about Crowd Sourcing, suggesting a hybrid of “Big Idea” and “user-centered design” (an insufficient shortcut of what they’re saying; check out the deck). Whereas GSP assumes the “Big Idea” at core, not even up for debate.  They say in the deck (above) “People engage with ideas, not channels.”  Meanwhile, the deck below  says “Social is *not* a channel” (slide 54).

All of this reading is in the wake of last week’s continuation of the discussion about the role of “Big Idea” in communications between consumers and brands.  Fast Company seems to side with the “Big Idea” with this article. (Great reaction to this here by Open Source, by the way). All coincidentally coming to mind when I’d just had a weekend of trying to figure out when to become involved in the “Creative Process” and when to let the “Creatives” do their thing, “create their magic.”

But is it this “magic,” this breath of the Gods, that will inspire me and others?  Is it the “Big Idea” that will help create conditions where we can inspire ourselves to want to do something?  Push us to want to live in a particular way? Open a path to something better – something greater? Is it the temporary entertainment of a Super Bowl commercial that features a short Darth Vader?  Or is it a crowded square somewhere in Egypt and knowing that Google (SayNow) enabled Twitter by Voice so that people could continue to link to each other? With people at Google evidently using their own free time to make this possible – was that a “Big Idea?” **

Not really a fair comparison.  And plenty of writers have discussed whether or not Facebook [edit 2/23: or a Google executive] is at the root of Egypt or not, or was it a PDF on “how to peacefully overthrow a dictator” that has been circulating, etc.  But it doesn’t matter. All the cause and conditions, whatever they were, arose to inspire people to do something. It doesn’t seem like there was one great leader doing the inspiring.  It seems like the one great leader, President Hosni Mubarek, was actually doing the not inspiring.

So perhaps when inspiration meets the obstacle of what could be the dictatorship of the “creatives,” with the legacy Mad Men hierarchies and stagnancy, that the breath can get knocked out and laziness can set in.  At least, this is how I currently feel about “Big Idea” culture. Open to revision as more information appears before this mind. For now there are moments it can feel like a gated community and might as well not even bother trying to talk to the people inside.  Feels like these folks don’t even speak the same language. And that’s the laziness.

But then, I don’t speak Egyptian.  I do have a former colleague, a usability analyst (user-centered design), who is Egyptian and somehow made us all feel connected back to Cairo, just with simple posts about her family, exchanges with friends on Facebook. So perhaps through links to links to links there’s some hope after all.

Motivation – Purpose

November 22, 2010

RSAnimate: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Some basics from the video:

Autonomy: People want to have control over their work.
Mastery: People want to get better at what they do.
Purpose: People want to be part of something that is bigger than they are.

I found a great critique of the book this video is based on here:

This is written by a frequent Amazon contributor named Wally Bock (his website: ) – he works as a coach. His most salient criticism of Pink?

“Throughout the book, Pink equates “monetary” incentives with “extrinsic motivation.” That ignores praise, promotion, preferment (in scheduling, eg), the admiration of peers, time off, and a host of other positive incentives. It also skews the discussion toward academic studies and away from the real workplace.

Pink also presents the issue as if it were intrinsic motivators (good) versus extrinsic motivators (not good). In the TED talk he even says “This is the titanic battle between these two approaches.”

That’s not how things work in the real world. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and their effects interact. You don’t have a simple choice of which lever to pull. You have to understand and influence a complex system.”