If you work with people, at some point you’re going to need to motivate them to do something you want. We’re not talking anything malicious, just getting stuff done. For most things, that’s always been the carrot and stick approach – if you do what I ask well, I’ll give you a carrot. If not, I’ll whack you with my stick. In essence – if you reward something, you’ll get more of what you want. If you punish something, you’ll get less.
And the bigger the carrot and stick, clearly, it would seem to make sense that the better the motivation derived from them. Because this system is ingrained in us, we see this everywhere.
To escape the status quo, everyone who works with or manages individuals should watch the below video, capturing the highlights of Dan Pink’s book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. (Not only is it extremely interesting, it’s also a really great lesson in using whiteboards to make engaging videos ) Pink also gave a TED talk last summer.
Hopefully, you took a moment to watch it. For those of you that are reading on, here’s a quick summary:
When tasks call for cognitive skill over mechanical skill, larger rewards result in poorer performance. Pay people enough to take money off the table. And, emphasize the three key factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction:
1) Autonomy – self-directed 2) Mastery – getting better at their craft 3) Purpose – making a contribution
I found the video extremely interesting. While the carrot and stick approach is so intuitive to us, when you really stop to think about the tasks that we’re motivated to work on, Pink’s points hit home.
When you’re toiling away, in the bowels of some huge project, working on some small part that isn’t going to significantly make or break the big picture, are you really driven to do your best work? Compared with, if you are the “CEO of your job”, making a clear contribution.
This is one key reason why most corporations are at such a huge disadvantage to most startups when it comes to innovation. Having huge amounts of money and resources are fantastic, until you’re trying to get top talent to apply it to new problems. The main corporate driver is to maximize profit, and you work on small chunks of something larger that the end customer really doesn’t care about. Startups facilitate their people in maximizing purpose, making contributions. And if they don’t, they should be – startups aren’t just vehicles to accomplish the founders’ purpose. Startups are an opportunity for everyone on the team to work towards achieving something, a collective victory.
Also, since startups are one of the few places that have the capability to go against the status quo, to implement processes that would make corporate managers shiver in their cubicles, they’re also well setup to allow individuals the other two key factors – autonomy, to decide how best to achieve the task at hand, and mastery, to provide an opportunity to get better at their craft.
The Mark Pincus “Be the CEO of your job” example is a good illustration of this. So is the example that Pink uses in the video about Atlassian and their “FedEx Days”. Who knew how productive one day could be if you just gave your employees free reign to decide how best to make a contribution?
Jeff Atwood has a great post on how he’s applying these principles at Stack Overflow. Are you maximizing purpose and leaving your carrots and sticks outside? Or is your motivation based purely on dollars and thus is an ineffective sham? What’s working for you?
Along with their new StackOverflow-style Q&A forum, I think these are great moves for the company. Granted, there are many nuances and details that must be considered and each company is different, there are also a number of common legal questions and action items that startups have. Thus, it would be a real savings if there was a common checklist and resource to accomplish these without having to pay the lawyer bills. After all, most lawyers just pull these things out of their document repository and simply customize them for each client. The more that startups can do this on their own, the more we can save the legal dollars for when it really matters.
These recent offerings from Legal River, in my opinion, are much, much more valuable than their initial lawyer search engine (when we started this past spring, we just asked around in the community for lawyer recommendations – I don’t think we would have trusted an online search engine to find us a reliable attorney).
This touches on what Dave McClure wrote about back in 2007 – innovate and automate. Nearly three years later, not much has changed. It’s good to see some innovation.
If you haven’t read Thomas Friedman’s NY Times Op-Ed on making 2010 the year of innovation, you should. Friedman raises a number of interesting points around how President Obama has allowed the grassroots movement that carried him into Washington to disperse and that Obama should focus on inspiring long term economic development through entrepreneurship and innovation. All are great points and ones that I agree with.
However, I think Friedman missed an opportunity with his Op-Ed and one that is unfortunate, given how widely read the column will become. We don’t need a mandate from Washington to make 2010 a year where America emphasizes innovation. This goes back to the comments on the grassroots elements that Friedman opens his column with – each of us, individually, has the ability to make an impact and inspire action, and contribute to change that we effect together. When America is at its best, it is a nation of individuals striving collectively towards a larger vision.
Let’s make 2010 the year that each of us focuses on how we can be innovative ourselves and encourage others to do the same.
How many ideas did we ponder ourselves or listen to from others last year? The ideas that if we change x or did y, there would be some improvement, something changed for the better. How many of these ideas did we take action on? How many of these fall by the wayside, even though it was something that we could have done something about in just a few moments?
Let’s make a concerted effort in 2010 to encourage ourselves and others to do more to be innovative – to explore and take some kind of action on these ideas.
One of the most interesting and encouraging things about working with startups is the motivation and drive that each entrepreneur has, and the belief that they can change the world in some way, no matter how small. They are also highly optimistic, believe that they can make this change, in spite of odds that are set against them.
What can we take from this? First, that it is important to remember that the initial idea doesn’t need to be perfectly formed. Innovation and entrepreneurship is all about starting somewhere and figuring out what works. Second, we need to keep in mind that there isn’t just one way of looking at the world and solving problems. And finally that there is very little downside.
And the important thing to remember is that entrepreneurship is not just about business. Innovation and entrepreneurial spirit can be applied to anything and the impact can be huge.
This is fortunate, because we as a nation and as a world have huge problems facing us. Climate change and poverty for starters.
These may seem to be massive problems, but we can’t just sit here and stare at the big, looming issues. We need to start tackling them somewhere. And this is where we can all make an impact, without a mandate from Washington. Each of us sees the world differently and has different ideas about how things should be done. Don’t just sit there and complain about it – use that spark, that motivation, to figure out something small that you can do about it.
Look at the power that kind of reaction had for the people of Haiti. And what was required? Just sending one text message. And, given how easy it is to spread an idea virally via the web today, then lots of those people encouraged others to do the same. The result to date has been somewhere around $20 million dollars.
We don’t need a mandate or CNN coverage to inspire us to act or tell us what we should do, though.
So, for 2010, figure out what you can do to help make this a year of innovation. Start by being innovative in some way yourself and encouraging others to do the same. I’m making this one of my goals for the year. Start by making it one of yours.
Hi! I'm Rob, a technology entrepreneur living in Dublin, Ireland, originally from Philadelphia. I co-founded BetDash.com which was acquired by Paddy Power.
I lead an awesome internal startup engineering team at Paddy Power, where we're continuing to build cool stuff for our extremely enthusiastic customers! We're using Ruby on Rails, Backbone.js, Sencha Touch, Redis, Resque, MySQL, and git. Previously, I worked with data warehouses and business intelligence at IBM Global Business Services. More here.