Monday, October 11, 2010

You Have to Not Have to to Want to

This is an intentially confusing title, so that you have to think about it. Or rather, so that you want to think about it. Reading this blog is a voluntary act, after all. Are you picking up what I'm throwing down?

In this book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink explains how incentives to perform—"carrot and stick" rewards—tend to destroy productivity. While these incentives work well for mechanical tasks, they actually reduce the quality of performance for more cognitive tasks. Actually, the science says that most people would much rather do such work for a sense of purpose. In other words, we're looking for "spiritual" rewards rather than "material" rewards.

In RSA Animate's video summary of Drive, Pink refers to a software company called Atlassian. Their approach to this problem is once a quarter to give employees 24 hours of free time to work on whatever they want to—complete autonomy. This greatly increases performance; more bugs are eliminated, new products created, etc. Essentially, this proposed solution is to give more free time wherein people don't "have to" do anything.

This method makes sense because, beyond satisfying basic living expenses, people want to follow their interests. A person has infinitely more energy to explore what they are interested in that what they are not. In a rigid system of obligations to a superior, a person might become interested in a certain lead, but neglect to follow it because of other more pressing duties. Autonomy gives him the resources to pursue what only he can see and fix.

Apparently, there is something in our hearts that sinks under the pressure of imposed responsibilities. Without the lightness and enthusiasm possible only in freedom, certain solutions cannot be seen and certainly cannot be executed. Our desire to pursue our own interests as we define them is essential to free living. It is surprising what we can achieve when we want to, but you have to not "have to" to "want to."

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