carrots and sticks
February 10, 2011, 6:17 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

First days are full of hope and premonition.  I mean specifically first days in new work places, which has turned from being a once in a lifetime event – for our grandparents and some of our parents – to an increasingly frequent rite of passage, dependent on loyalty and itchy feet quotients among other things.

I walked into my last first day of a new job brimming with characteristic curiosity and apprehension.  Looking back on it now, the seemingly innocuous day had enough signs and flags to help make sense of the next year in that place.  Here are two:  no interview with the managers (I didn’t even meet the project managers until a week after I started the gig, and neither of them ever looked at my cv); and no clear experience relevant scope of work (just do this for now and we’ll eventually get you situated in something more appropriate, I was told on day one).

Needless to say, I wasn’t later properly situated; I’m assuming it was a common unhappy experience for colleagues.  The place felt like a mill; people didn’t matter so much as a magic ratio that had to be kept high:  the number of hours billed correlated with an appropriately high quantity of work.

Breathtaking how much is left out of this formula.  Personality and the ancient idea of giftedness – the idea that what I bring to the table is unique to me and therefore valuable – is a blank.  So is the idea of purpose or common goal.  Ignoring these basic realities of life and personality and work couldn’t be a good business strategy, could it?

No they couldn’t, says Dan Pink in his talk excerpted following:

there are three factors that science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed – to direct our own lives. In many ways, traditional notions of management runs afoul of that. Management is great if you want compliance; but if you want engagement, which is what we want in the workplace today as people are doing more complicated, sophisticated things, self-direction is better.


Mastery is our urge to get better at stuff. We like to get better at stuff. This is why people play musical instruments on the weekend. These people act in ways that don’t make any sense economically. They play musical instruments on the weekends. Why? It’s not gonna make them any money. ’Cause it’s fun. ’Cause you get better at it, and that’s satisfying.


Economists have looked into it: why are they doing this? It’s overwhelmingly clear: challenge and mastery, along with making a contribution, that’s it.


What you’re seeing, more and more, what’s arising is what you might call the purpose model. Organizations want to have some kind of transcendent purpose – partly because it makes coming to work better, partly because that’s the way to get better talent. And what we’re seeing now is when the profit motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive, bad things happen. Bad things ethically sometimes, but also bad things like just not good stuff. Like crappy products. Like lame services. Like uninspiring places to work. When the profit motive is paramount, or when it becomes completely unhitched from the purpose motive, people don’t do great things.

Carrots and sticks model:

if we get past this ideology of carrots and sticks and look at the science, I think we can actually build organizations and work lives that make us better off, and I think we also have the promise to make our world just a little bit better.

The surprising truth about what motivates, Dan Pink, RSAnimate

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