Thursday’s Joke

A little polar bear goes up to his mum and asks her, “Am I real polar bear?”

“Of course you are” his mum replies. “I’m a polar bear, your dad’s a polar bear, so you’re a polar bear”.

“But are you sure I don’t have any brown bear or grizzly bear in me?” he asks.

“Listen, if you don’t believe me go ask your grand-dad”

So he goes and asks his grand-dad

“Grand-dad, are you sure I’m a polar bear. I don’t have brown bear or grizzly bear in me?”

His grand–dad looks down on him and smiles.

“Listen, my boy, I’m a polar bear, my mum and dad were polar bears, and your granny, she was a polar bear, so your dad is a polar bear and so is your mum and her mum and her dad and her grand parents. We’re all polar bears so you are a pure, 100% polar bear”

The little polar bear doesn’t look convinced so his grand-dad asks him’

“What’s worrying you?”

“Well” he replies, “If both mum and dad are polar bears and all my grannies and grand-dads are polar bears, and even their mums and dads were all polar bears, and there’s no trace of grizzly or brown bear in me……then why am I so fucking cold?”

Stick and Carrot Doesn’t Work

The excellent has served up another gem in this talk by Dan Pink. Using hard evidence from experiments around the world he makes the case that stick and carrot type incentives actually reduce performance in any task requiring a little creative thinking. As he points out that means pretty much everything businesses expect from their employees these days.

The explanation is that an attractive financial incentive actually narrows our thinking. If the solution to the task is anything other than obvious this kind of ‘motivation’ causes us to focus on the task at the expense of a better solution that might lie at the periphery.

He suggests – he would say, proves – that autonomy, mastery and purpose are what drives motivation. The desire to have control over our lives, the ambition to get better at something and the need to feel we are serving a higher order purpose that we believe in. In this short talk he only gets to prove convincingly that stick and carrot does not work. He does not get much time to explore the more enlightened approach but it makes sense.

I’d add recognition to his list. A little public acknowledgement for our efforts goes a long way towards motivating people. It also allows everyone else to see what they should be seeking to emulate.

As Dan Pink argues, business is not applying what we know to be true – what we can prove – from science. I am with him. My comment above, that public acknowledgement allows others to copy desired behaviour is also based on social science.

Facilitating copying is the most powerful way fro ideas and actions to spread. We have long known that it is not necessary to first change people’s attitudes. We need to change behaviour and attitudes follow.

Dan is optimistic that business is prepared to look at radically different ways to manage and motivate. We have the “carrot” of organizations like Google who take a more results focused approach and give a great deal of autonomy, e.g. in NPD, to its team. We have the “stick” that old models of management, oversight and incentives have so spectacularly failed in financial institutions. Maybe, but I fear the change will be a long time coming for the big business behemoths. Inertia is the most powerful force and insecure greedy people will find it very hard to believe that fear & greed are not the best motivators.

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