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    Jim Owens: On Motivation

    Number of View: 3489

    Let’s have a brief look at the area of motivation.

    This is a fascinating topic, I really strongly feel I should so this tonight, because – let’s face it – unless we are motivated in some way then we probably won’t achieve much at all. In fact I tried to start an “apathy club” on and I got just one member.

    I’m going to start with a rather odd statement, “Workers in the Western world did not need to be externally motivated to work, until the late 1940’s to early 1950’s”.

    Now I know that sounds strange, but the reason was that until around that time they had always been internally motivated.”

    What do I mean by internal and external motivation?

    There are basically three types of motivation: carrot, stick and internal. The first two
    come from an analogy with making a donkey pull a cart.

    1. Carrot motivation – you dangle a carrot in front of a donkey and the donkey
    moves forward. This works for a while, but donkeys are dumb – they’re not
    stupid, so it soon learns there’s no reward for the work. You can use bigger,
    juicer carrots, or even whole bunches of them but that’s a very temporary fix. So
    you have to let the donkey eat a piece of carrot occasionally to keep it working.
    But then the donkey stops being hungry. It’s the same with people; you have to
    give them bigger and bigger rewards, so it’s self-limiting.

    2. With Stick motivation, you punish the donkey each time it stops. But this is selflimiting
    too, because the donkey eventually just accepts the beatings and stops
    working. But you are now worse off, because now the donkey hates it’s owner
    and it’s not afraid to be punished – a very bad combination indeed.

    3. Internal motivation is the ultimate, this is where someone does the work just
    because they want to or need to, and so doesn’t need to be motivated by
    someone else – this is the Holy Grail of the Project Manager.

    But back to my statement…
    All though history workers struggled on the land and in towns and villages, just to scrape
    together the absolute bare essentials of life – food, clothing and shelter. If they stopped
    working they starved or froze to death – did they need to be externally motivated? No?
    They already had the supremely powerful motivator – survival.

    In fact in the eighteenth century, the average lifespan of the working man in Britain was
    just 25 years, and he had a vocabulary or only 20 words. But then if you only live to 25
    and can’t read – what do you need words for (however, it is rumored that 24 of these
    words were related to s-e-x, but I can’t confirm that).

    Then in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we had the wonderful industrial
    revolution, which got a few people all steamed up. While other people (who were running
    out of steam, working the land) started flocking into the towns and cities, looking for a
    slightly less arduous life. In fact some cities, such as my hometown of Belfast (originally
    the town of Belford) were a byproduct of the industrial revolution – the mill and factory
    owners built clusters of little houses for their workers, and then the clusters, plus bars,
    shops, schools, gasometers (huge gas storage tanks) and hospitals gradually merged to
    form a city. And of course the mill owners charged exorbitant rents for the houses and
    evicted them if they left their job, or even for misdemeanors. The mill and factory owners
    treated their workers so poorly that it was largely instrumental in the rise of the unions.
    But with so many people concentrated in the cities it meant that there was a significant
    oversupply of cheap, hungry labor. So if you couldn’t do your job for any reason, there
    would be two or three people ready and willing to jump into your place – and I’ve no
    doubt that the occasional worker disappeared in some shady alley, or dark river, at the
    hands of some particularly motivated individuals, to increase the number of places a little.

    So did these people need external motivation? No!

    Now we move into the 20th century and in 1914 there was the First World War. Of course
    back then it wasn’t called the First World War then as there hadn’t been any before then
    (it would be like finding a Roman coin, dated 2 BC) – it was called the “Great War” (great
    as in “Mind-bogglingly great big nasty war”, rather than great as in “Oh what a great
    war”) because everyone thought no no-one would ever be stupid enough to have
    another one.

    But what was the motivation this time? Now people were motivated by national pride,
    hatred of the enemy, fear of death and the belief that the ruling classes were placed in
    office by God Himself. So they still had all the motivation they needed.

    After the war we move into the 1920’s and along came Henry Ford and his production
    lines. These production lines were dehumanizing, and they treated workers like
    machine-parts instead of people. So if a person “broke” he would simply be replaced.
    This was surprisingly easy to do, because Henry ensured that every task on the line – as
    well as being highly repetitive – was very simple. So you would never see craftsmen
    making sub-assemblies, or even performing a series of different tasks, instead they
    would screw in bolts or connect a cable, or position a part – or something else really
    simple. And that ensured that people could be replaced very easily, as there was no
    learning curve. So people were again struggling to maintain a basic existence.

    In the 1930’s the depression hit hard, people were again working just to exist (and many
    didn’t) in fact people often had to queue up for three or four days for one day’s work.
    Then in the 1940’s we had World War II, so-named because now they realized that
    people were in fact stupid enough to have more world wars, so they started numbering
    them (I’ve always been puzzled by the use of Roman numerals for the war number
    though, but I presume the answer is in the book of Revelation somewhere).

    WW II was much like the first one; everyone was fully employed again and national
    pride, hatred of the enemy and fear of death kept people motivated (largely, by this time
    though they had stopped believing that the ruling classes had been put in office by God).
    But anyone who wasn’t fighting on the frontline was engaged in producing something to
    feed the war machine, food, clothing, tanks, planes, vehicles, ammunition etc, etc, and
    many industrialists became obscenely wealthy as a result of this. And much of this
    wealth was retained in the country.

    Then after the war there was a general postwar boom, and most countries developed (or
    improved) their social welfare systems. And so for the very first time in the history of the
    western world, people no longer had to work just for the bare essentials of life, because
    these were being met, in one way or another. They had food, clothing, shelter, beer,
    cigarettes, fish and chips and the pub on a Friday, the pictures on Saturday, and evan a
    little money over. And if they these there jobs, they were still provided for – what more
    could they want, life was so simple then?

    And back in those days capitalism, commercialism and consumerism hadn’t really kicked
    in yet so people didn’t KNOW that they needed three cars, four TV’s and a time-shared
    holiday home in Spain.

    So workers had all that they wanted, and a little over, so they should be happy and
    motivated, shouldn’t they?

    But strangely the opposite happened. Workers became unhappy and demotivated, they
    became unhappy and started taking sick leave from work, and productivity fell

    The reason why was that they had lost their internal motivation (the struggle just to
    survive) and external motivation didn’t really exist yet, because it hadn’t been needed
    much before.

    The industrialists got really worried by this and so they started pouring money into
    motivational research, and that is why most of the motivational theories that you see
    today come from that era.
    But one thing that puzzles me is that the motivational experts almost universally agree
    that money by itself is not strong motivator – but what motivated all these motivational
    research to carry out their research? You got it in one – the buckets of cash from the

    Everyone is familiar with the main theories, but I thought I would add a little meat to the

    One of the first cabs off the rank amount the researches was Abraham Maslow. He and
    his team came up with the wonderful Needs Hierarchy. But I’ve always thought of
    Maslow as a bit of a conman, because his “theory” was really an hypothesis, i.e. it had
    not been tested empirically (experimentally). And in fact when you pour some cold water
    on it, it leaks.

    So Maslow took the cash and effectively just provided what his team believed to be the
    case, without properly testing it in the field. It reminds me of someone’s PhD thesis that I
    read once. It had as its central tool, a questionnaire, developed by the author. But the
    fine print said, “The author has tested this questionnaire experimentally on his wife.”

    That is the honest truth! Hey fella, even if you wife has the most severe multiple
    personality disorder in history, you still need a bunch more than that!

    Maslow’s conjecture was that people’s needs are arranged in a table, like a ladder. The
    bottom rung is “Physiological needs” i.e. food clothing and shelter, the next is “Security”,
    then “Social” which includes love and sex, then “Self Esteem” and finally “Self
    Actualization”. Maslow claimed that each need had to be essentially met before you
    could step up to the next rung.

    What are the problems with this? What about the starving artist? Self-actualized, but
    missing most of the other stuff!

    And Maslow’s hierarchy implies that people won’t “socialize” (including love and sex) if
    they haven’t got food, clothes, shelter and security. Excuse me Abraham; the poor have
    always bred like rabbits. And as for not having sex without clothes, or a house – I won’t
    even go there!

    But luckily Maslow had a man called Fredrick Hertzberg on his team. Not that it was in
    any lucky that a team member was called “Fredrick Hertzberg”, but lucky that this
    particular person was on the team, because he went on to develop the more useful (and
    tested), Hygiene Motivation theory.

    (This is a short excerpt of a presentation by Jim Owens PMP,)

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