Hook-ed on Motivation work-ed for meh…meh!

I’ve often wondered how I would respond if tortured. It hasn’t happened, unless you count going on a fast or making myself get up to exercise when I’d rather sleep, but the lines of thought on both sides of this issue fascinate me. Both sides have motivations, and both sides affect the other side’s motivations. I’ve watched this scenario play out from the elementary playground to international diplomacy, and it seems that motivation affects so much. My world is rather school-intensive, so I see the effects of good and bad motivation in that world rather clearly defined.

I have found that most students who struggle with math aren’t lacking intelligence or effort. They usually lack motivation and good instruction. When they get good instruction, they get motivated. They believe. If they believe they will get help, and believe they can do it, they will try it. When they try it, they learn it. If they don’t try it, they won’t learn it, and if they don’t believe in the help or themselves, they won’t try.

Another contributing factor to my interest in this field is my experiences playing sports. I had many coaches; most were of a similar type. They used poorly spliced cliches, strong emotion, and gruff intimidation to make a group of knuckleheads pay attention and work hard. This style was somewhat effective…it trained obedience, loyalty, and the ability to summon and control aggression, and those are valuable. But it also had some problems, especially as this style was based on military leadership, which was also adopted by schools, parents, churches, and other institutions following WWII. Just because it worked in the military doesn’t mean it has broad applications in the civilian world.

First rule of motivation: You can’t make someone do anything. All you can do is enforce consequences.

Second rule of motivation: People are more highly motivated long-term by what they like than by what they fear.

Third rule of motivation: Strong relationships are more motivating than almost anything else.

These rules apply to all situations at all times in all cultures. Many have tried to contradict rule #1, but there are always those willing to suffer torture and death for what they believe who prove the rule at last. Most dictators have tried to show that rule #2 can be reversed, but someone always topples them, usually with help from the inside…which proves rule #3. And every family shows rule #3 to be true, especially when it comes to intense love for an individual.

So now that we have established what’s true in the landscape of motivation, let’s look at how we’ve applied and misapplied these principles to our professional lives.

In the individual sports (golf, boxing) or arts (solo albums, authors, stand-up comedy), you make more money when you succeed more often. When you win, you win for yourself by yourself, and you get the reward of more money, or at least the opportunity to earn more money if you want it. In this area, we seem to see rules #1 and #2 applied almost universally, at least in the free world.

In team sports (football, hockey), team arts (bands, movies/tv), and some businesses, we see a small bonus for exceptional team performance, but the free-agency mindset has caused individual performance to result in higher pay or better opportunities for the individual. This sets rule #2 against rule #3 using rule #1. It’s confusing because it’s conflicting. Labor vs Management has muddied the waters, and both sides are to blame because both have abused their power, resulting in ammunition for the other side. It seems we need them both because neither can be trusted with all the decisions…or the money.

In most professional cases, there are agreements worked out to give some of the money and power to the Labor and some to the Management. How does this affect the three rules of motivation? Well, #3 is damaged greatly. It’s hard to be friends, or even friendly with the people who seem to be holding you back…especially if they see you the same way. And this relationship begins to undermine rule #2 because of the adversarial atmosphere. When fear comes in, people stop trusting others and the system, and begin to try to work against rule #1…and nobody is motivated like they could be.

In my profession, education, the situation is even worse. Not only do we battle the adversarial relationship with colleagues, but we battle the de-motivating pay. We get paid for time at the building…and what we do there only affects our pay if we take on extra jobs, or do so poorly that we become a public-relations issue, and have to be fired or harassed into resigning or retiring. We don’t get any more pay for doing well. Bad teachers get the same pay as good ones. The business world wouldn’t keep bad employees; sports teams trade or fire bad players; actors and directors avoid working with bad people. So why is education the last to apply the rules of motivation to its own people?

Three reasons: money and power, political credit, and decades of training. But that’s another post, that, frankly, I don’t want to read, much less write. So I will spare you the rant; you’ve probably already heard it.

What about other areas? Suppose you work for yourself; that makes rule 1 complicated. Self-discipline is key, or you find yourself on the wrong side of both rules 2 and 3, and eventually rule 1, as well. What about public service? It seems similar to education, as far as I can tell from the outside. Military, law enforcement, and the like? Rule 3 plays a huge role in these professions, it seems. And the low pay means most don’t stay if they don’t like it, following rule 2. Hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and the like? Advertising and atmosphere costs follow rules 1 and 2, since these are luxuries, not necessities. Atmosphere and service create perceptions that follow rule 3.

So we see that these rules hold in many professions. How do they work, or don’t work, in your area?

Next post: motivation in the Church and the family

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