Re:Incentives LO1204

Michael McMaster (
Sun, 14 May 1995 06:39:37 +0000

Replying to LO1178 --

Here I am, drawn back into the "motivation" conversation. Melvin's
comments suggest a new tack that I can't resist. After accepting a
mechanistic and reductionist view of motivation, he says,

> For an incentive "system" to work, the sytem must somehow learn what
> motivates each individual, and tailor itself to each of their needs. All
> other schemes will motivate only a portion of the people.

Let's apply his statement above to the city of London. If it had a
single council, we might go to the council and point out that "of
course people aren't working, crime is rampant, children are failing
at (or even not attending!) school and other examples of failed
motivation are everywhere. The city is not designed to take account
of the motivation of each individual." This insight, and the advice
that is implied, aren't likely to be much help. (Although, god
knows, it might be better than the approaches most cities actually

You might say that the example is not relevant. What does a city -
especially the size of London - have to do with a company? Well it's
made up of those same people. And, while it's larger and has
different functions and purposes, the large corporations are not
small enough to change the scale of the problem much. (Shell is
bigger than some countries in economics.)

The above is a serious challenge. It is a challenge first of all to
the "somehow" of Melvin's statement being even approached when we
consider the large companies. The approach must at least suggest how
that "somehow" is to be satisfied or we must say, "such large
companies are anomolies that shouldn't - and can't be expected to -
continue to exist."

The challenge is also meant to provide a background to say that what
"motivates" people might indeed be individual and unique but, to the
same extent, it is also constantly changing for each individual. The
problem as formulated by Melvin is much worse than it appears on the
face of it.

It may be that what moves people to action has more to do with the
environment and reality that they were socialised into and less to do
with their individuality than we think. It may also be that what
moves people day by day is the combination of their altered (internal
and external) circumstances and that an environment of choice is a
much better one than attempting to "motivate" them.

I challenge you to apply the ideas of individualised motivation for
a short but consistent period of time with your spouse, your family
and/or your best friends and see if can even be worked at that level.

Michael McMaster