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Jim Owens: On Motivation

Number of View: 6083

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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