Friday, February 3, 2012

Ars Gratia Artis (Art for Art's Sake)

Now I know what my problem is: I’m a 3.0 in a 2.0 world!

I’m discovering, through the assigned reading and mulling over my work experience, why I have an aversion to monetary “incentives.” And Daniel Pink (Drive) put my thoughts into words: they don’t work (at least, not for me, and, evidently, lots of us). The monetary reward is value-based – not my value, but someone else’s (Who? A manager, someone in HR, a senior leader?). It suggests I as an employee, only do dreary, mundane, and boring work for the money, and more money will make me produce, well, more better. But money is not my highest value. Given: being well-compensated is desirable, but higher on my list of values are my time, autonomy, mastering challenges, and quality of life. As Pink writes, “Enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver” (p. 21). Or, more popularly, as the MGM logo proclaims, "Art for art's sake."

News flash: you can’t “motivate” or “incentivize” people by traditional rewards. Managers spend hours contemplating how to motivate people, as if a mere extrinsic factor will motivate a person into high performance or job satisfaction. Consider the matter of “disciplining” a child. Parents or caretakers who shout, dominate, or use corporal means to get children to conform to their expectations are – guess what? – not disciplining a child; they are punishing a child. They are inflicting from outside of the child, instilling fear, not discipline (extrinsic motivation, or 2.0). Authentic discipline comes from within the child; a parent can offer gentle and firm influence because – guess what? – it’s only integrated discipline when the motivation comes from within (intrinsic motivation, or 3.0).

I have direct experience with the way Motivation 2.0 undermines the pleasure of Motivation 3.0. I am, you see, an artist. I use paints, paper, sewing, fabrics, wood and found objects in projects, varying widely in technique and materials. At times I’ve had encouragement to pursue one line or another as the source of earning a living. At first I was jazzed, thinking, “What satisfaction, to have all of that time to create.” Followed by, “For money?” – phizzle ! poof! – no way. To alter a process I savor – really, it’s the making of the thing, not the end point – into a money-making enterprise zapped my enthusiasm for the endeavor. I would rather be employed and use creativity every chance I could get at work. I am, afterall, a heuristic (non-algorithmic) laborer.

The term “mastery” crept into this week’s reading, Daniel Pink’s Drive, as it did the previous assignment (my previous blog installment referred to Erikson’s theory of eight stages of life development, each of which has its own “crisis” - I prefer "challenge" - the resolving of which is accomplished through mastery of that stage). The word caught my attention when used to describe the reason people contribute to open-source projects, as “The fun of mastering the challenge of a given software problem.” Additional uses of “mastery” are in the context of pleasure and enjoyment in one’s work.

And, so, I would be remiss if I overlooked directing you to a remarkable source. Former United States Army Air Corps pilot, George Leonard, once an editor of Look Magazine, and past-president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, wrote Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment (1991). Other books he authored include Education and Ecstasy, The Ultimate Athlete and In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets. Leonard was a journalist on the forefront of observing the ‘60s’ counter culture movement in California; he helped define the human potential movement. He studied the Japanese martial art, aikido, for upwards of five decades, and was a fifth-degree black belt well before his death two years ago (86 years young). I learned of Leonard through my own decade of training in aikido.

See the beauty of aikido in this video:

In Mastery, Leonard writes that we complain when we reach a plateau (in whatever pursuit), get stuck there, and abandon our effort. We live in a culture with a bottom-line mentality (Motivation 2.0), in which we are told to set goals, measure advances, and expect continuous progress. The plateau, however, is an inevitable and natural phase of the process. Ours is a culture of “anti-mastery” where patience is rare and the quick-fix the norm. My interpretation (of his interpretation): the plateau (the process, the moment, the Motivation 3.0) – not the endpoint (Motivation 2.0) is its own reward.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Carrots, Incentives, and Wisdom

We return, once again, to the matters of childhood and character.

As surely as Pavlov's pack of canines, we are wired from childhood to chase the carrot. As adults, we glorify the root vegetable as an "incentive" or, worse, the multisyllabic "incentivize."
In his provocative question on the discussion board last week, Dr. Artino asked about the design of the reward system, behaviors leadership hopes to get, and types of behaviors it actually rewards.
No “one” designed the system; it evolved out of and for our human natures. In the discussion board, I referred to Erik Erikson (Erikson, Erik H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton) who wrote a psychosocial theory of development. I suggested organizations can be thought of as “parents” and employees as the “children” of the parent. Erikson believed (and made a good case for) how people meet the challenges of the life tasks (he postulated eight developmental stages throughout a lifetime) formed their competencies, values, emotional attitudes, and sense of self.

I believe that lack of trust on both sides (leader to employee, and employee to leader) creates an excess use of rules. Yes, some rules are essential, but overuse of rules stifles the use of professional judgment. Leadership may claim to want folks who will innovate and “think outside of the box” yet typically the reward (the perks, the bonus, or the promotion) is bestowed on those who conform.

I came across Michael MacCoby who writes about social character and organizations. I like that he used Erikson’s theory of development as a framework for understanding the difference – and similarity – between bureaucratic and interactive characters. The chart below lists the eight developmental stages on the far left, and in the corresponding row, character traits you might expect to see:


He writes, “[in the '80s] . . . organizations began to redesign work. New modes of work required not only new skills but also new values. A new organizational ideology emphasized innovation, interactive networks, customer responsiveness, teamwork, and flexibility. The economic organizations creating the greatest wealth had to become interactive instead of bureaucratic. They had to manage intelligence rather than energy. Instead of the paternalistic bureaucratic manager, the interactive managers were expected to be coaches of empowered individuals and teams.”

So, we have paternalistic, rule-laden bureaucracies which periodically dole out incentives and reward based not on innovation but on “not stirring up trouble.” Remarks by mid-level managers years back exemplify the attitude. The first, at the time of the annual performance review, remarked, “Well, I have not had any complaints, so you must be doing a good job.” Seriously. Since when does not logging complaints equate with a good job?

The second remark pertained to ensuring a task was accomplished not because it was the right thing (morally, humanly) to do, but because “we wouldn’t want to end up on the front page of The [Washington] Post.” (We ended up on the front page anyway.) Such remarks made me feel demoralized, relegated to the bottom rung of expectations (not just me, but my colleagues as well), as if scraping by without complaints or above-the-fold headlines was all I had to do to collect a paycheck. The driving motivation was to stay out of the news rather than doing the right thing.

I want to know other’s thoughts on expectations in the workplace, and was pleased to find a wise soul who put words on my own experience. Here’s how TED describes Barry Schwartz, a psychologist: “. . . makes a passionate call for "practical wisdom" as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world. He studies the link between economics and psychology, offering startling insights into modern life.” From his 20 minute video I took away these insightful bits:

A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule. A wise person is like a jazz musician, using the notes on a page but dancing around them, knowing how to invent combinations for the situation and people at hand.”
When things go wrong, we reach for incentives. Neither rules nor incentives are enough. Over reliance on rules and incentives chip away at moral skill. Moral will is undermined by impulsive appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing.”

Incentives lead us to not what is my responsibility, but what serves my interests? Any incentive system can be diverted by bad will. Excessive reliance on incentives demoralizes professional activity: workers lose morale, and causes the activity itself to lose morality. Employers should encourage virtue, wanting to the right thing, the right way, for the right reason."

Thank you, Barry Schwartz, for putting into words what I struggled to express!

Comment, question, thought? Go to it.
~ Carol 


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