Monday, May 31, 2010

I Need Wally's Motivation Fairy to Pay A Visit

So, what motivates you?

Dan Pink thinks he's got the answer. Or an answer. Or at least the ability to team up with folks who can help him do a fast hand at animating a short talk on motivation in the workplace. Watch it here:

One thing from this video immediately catches my attention: He features a software company in Australia that, once each year, allows its employees 24 hours to do whatever they want, in a work-related fashion. All they have to do is report their results at the end of their 24 hours. He says the company sees bug fixes, amazing new products, and all sort of stuff come out of this liberating, 24-hour time period.

I have to wonder, though: How much of what comes out of that 24-hour allotment is crap that never goes anywhere? I know, I know. Why focus on the negative? Pink focuses on the positive and, well, sees nothing but employees who eat coal and poop emeralds.

If this software company isn't pure fiction, I'd kind of like to work there. But they wouldn't hire me, as I'm not a programmer. I do write. And finding a kind of writing that motivates me motivated me right out of journalism. I really enjoyed column writing and light features, not so much the hard news. Really hard news – investigative reporting – no way. Not my cup of tea. Not that I don't recognize its value, nor the challenge of researching and writing it all out. Just not for me. What motivated me wasn't really in the day-to-day journalism that people wanted me to do, so I got out of that. What I do now writing-wise isn't exactly soul-satisfying either (except for a few weeks ago when I wrote that 30-word procedural step that just sang), but it removed a lot of stress from my life and now allows me on my off hours to pursue the kind of writing that is motivational. Not that my writing now is any better – but at least it's writing I like to do.

Ah, but the inner curmudgeon says, “Well, somebody has to do the drudge work. You've seen it at the paper: The “motivated” one is the one off doing what we wants, but for that to happen, the others have to pick up the slack. Chicken-dinner journalism is what The People want. So go to that city council meeting.”

But what do you do if what motivates you is being the first to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, the inner curmudgeon asks. Pink says, well, do that in your off hours. But what if your on-hours are so motivationally draining that the off hours are just little islets of numbness between separate daily hells? According to Pink, you find something that motivates you. The curmudgeon in me says, well, easier said than done.

So, how do you find motivation in what you don't like, but in what pays the bills – because for the most of us who are not geniuses who happen to work for fictional Australian software companies or who can flit around making motivational speeches on motivation, reality says, chump, there's a reason you get paid to work. Or, as Catbert, evil director of human resources would say, “If we don't hear any shrieks of pain, it's like you're stealing from the company.”

What got me our of journalism was the constant, “That was great. What else ya got?” I know that's the nature of the business, but the “what else ya got” was not what motivated me in the business, as I'm sure any number of my former editors would concur. I don't mind that, in the end, I wasn't geared, still am not geared, to the keep pumping it out mentality, at least for what stories-by-the-yard are wanted in journalism. I wish I'd been in this kind of situation, as reported by a friend still in the business:

I think that the 'what else you got' comes after you've been rewarded and thanked. You shouldn't have to ask for it. It happens when you appreciate the effort that was given.

But, once again, eating coal and pooping emeralds was not an option, or at least an extremely limited option given the environment I was in coupled with my attitude at the time.

Now, things are a lot better. Not that it was easy, nor is easy now. Back then, I didn't know how I was going to get out of it, either. It took a butt-first exit from the paper and a year working as a bricklayer, telemarketer and Target shelf-stocker before I figured it out. And am I pooping emeralds now? Well, an occasional glint of green I see, just like as it was in the journalism biz. But I'm a lot happier. Maybe that's what motivation is all about.


refs said...

Atlassian are not fictional, they produce some great software like Confluence and Jira.
The "do what you want" event could be although it sounds feasible imo.

Theres alot of things at my work that I would love to get done if they made time for me to do it. Most of this stuff would make me or my team more productive and that in itself is very rewarding.

Mister Fweem said...

I was just being facetious in saying they're fictional. And while I think their 24-hour fun fest is real as well, and feasible, too, I'm hesitant to say that's a cure-all for every workplace. I've got some creative and fun and exciting things I'd like to do in the workplace as well, but when you work at a nuclear waste dump writing technical procedures, they don't exactly cotton to this kind of behavior.