Re: Incentives LO1324

Michael McMaster (
Sat, 20 May 1995 09:27:49 +0000

Replying to LO1310 --

Mariann, thanks for your comments and the extension of the Maslow
(and "motivation") conversation. It raises a point that will cause
me to own up to my past - I was (blush) an accountant in an earlier
professional incarnation.

It may be that women should thank their stars that they've been
excluded from the "economic man" syndrome by sexism. And men should
thank their stars too that women have escaped this horror.

> The economic motivation
> model has one salient attraction: it can be calculated, and the numbers
> provide a (spurious) ground for self-congratulation, that we are being
> "hard-headed" (as opposed to fuzzy-headed), and thus "rational."

It is a pure myth that "bottom lines" can be calculated and learning
or other phenomena cannot. Most of us are aware that we were
socialised into a Cartesian world and have to work to develop
thinking outside of that. The most pervasive aspect of this, in
business, is the accounting notions of measurement. Measurement is
not a (merely) objective phenomenon. What we choose to measure, what
we choose to measure with, what we accept as a measure of something
are all decided by us. (If you sweep the bottom of the ocean with a
net that has 1/4 inch holes in it, you will find that the bottom of the
ocean contains only things that are larger than 1/4 inch.)

Anything we measure is an indicator of something but it is never the
thing. Anything we measure is the result of some various
interactions and we can measure only the result which, of itself,
will give us almost no information about the originating events. We
are usually measuring to find out about the sources of the results so
that we can inform our future action.

There are measures of learning, of knowledge, of teamwork - of
anything we care to think carefully enough about and have an intent
on achieving. We are so caught in our Cartesian based accounting
thinking that we fail to see the creative potential in measuring.
And we buy into the utter nonsense that "bottom line" is a useful
measure of anything. My response is most frequently to laugh at
people who say it's important. (I have the advantage of having been
one who made up the numbers that everybody believed in.)

> Behind the wide embrace of Maslow's hierarchy as an iron-clad rule
> (rather than as a general guide, which may make more sense), lurks
> "economic rationality."

What you say here is important. The "economic rationality" (also
Cartesian and reductionist) that is known will warp, pollute and,
possibly, even render "evil" (to use another participants term) some
very well intentioned thinking. It's because the economics is wrong
and so are the organisational and management models. That is, they
don't reflect human beings, complexity, the possibility of learning
and other good things. The British "iron cage of capitalism" has not
yet been transformed. (The cage, of course, wasn't capitalism. The
cage was Cartesian thinking applied beyond its bounds.)

Michael McMaster <>