9 YEARS AGO

NINE YEARS AGO ON MY OLD BLOG I POSTED:

Today’s blueberry-peach pie. My family is of the opinion that a pie is done once it’s bubbled out of the crust. Yesterday I made pesto and apricot-gooseberry jam. Tomorrow… carrot-ginger jam.

8/8/2010: I woke this morning and realized that I didn’t have to run today [I was mostly running every other day until 2012], the weather is perfect, and I’ve spent my entire summer reading to prepare for the new school year and making jam. The jam is tasty, but I like making it more than eating it. The dog is not pregnant. The bathtub for the bathroom remodel is still in the garage. I haven’t written a story. I didn’t attend the Bellevue Arts Fair. I didn’t attend my 40-year high school reunion (that’s another thing, I’m getting old). We didn’t go to Lisbon. We didn’t go anywhere on vacation. I have two weeks before school starts up again.

I’m already tired just thinking about it, but I also look forward to getting back to work, to feeling useful and occupied. It feels good to be working a job I love.

A series of studies Dan Pink describes at RSA finds that once basic needs are met and people aren’t worried about money, money ceases to be a motivator for higher performance. It actually works in reverse—offer them more money and their job performance goes down. Yeah, weird. The study began at MIT but has been replicated all over the world such as rural India. Same thing. Extra monetary incentive for high performance doesn’t work when the work requires thinking. Assembly line tasks—more money, more work. Ask people to problem-solve, be creative, or think… and the whole scenario begins working in a way that seems counter to reason.

So pay people enough that money is not an issue anymore, and then if you want them to think harder and achieve really great things, you need a better motivator.

Instead of money, what motivates thinking people who aren’t worried about how to pay the babysitter or their overpriced medical care are three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • Autonomy: Give us a challenge and just get out of our way—let us make our own choices about what to do. We want to be self-directed.
  • Mastery: It’s fun to do things well. That’s why we often work so hard at our leisure activities even though they do not “pay” us anything.
  • Purpose: Humans want to feel useful. We want to make a difference in the world.

What’s the lesson to be learned from this? Some of our traditional beliefs about leadership and motivation are turned on their head. Top down direction and money rewards work for the most simplistic tasks, but fail to address the need for creative and intelligent work in a modern society. To be fair, they aren’t working well for traditional cultures either, which include autonomy, mastery, and purpose in every job from cooking a meal to weeding a field. It’s the industrial system that has caused us to lose sight of the value of work because the end-game tasks are so divorced from the control and skill of the individual worker.

I have two weeks where I can wake up in the morning and decide what to do, practice doing it well, and look toward being useful. I guess that’s how I’ve spent my summer vacation.


Today I did not make a pie, but I took a walk. I made salal scones and eggplant Parmesan. Both turned out well, and we also attended the Tillamook County Fair this morning. I am fully retired, have still not been to Lisbon, and have heard no word about my 50th high school reunion that is coming up next year. I have made two kinds of pesto and six kinds of jam this summer. Nothing with carrots.

But yes, I still want independence, mastery, and meaning.

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