The Puzzle of Motivation and Beyond...

I really love TED talks.  I could watch them all day, but there are too many, so I often ask my friends to recommend ones they have found to be insightful. (Please share any you like or think I should check out.)  Most recently, I have returned to The Puzzle of Motivation, by Dan Pink, as one of the talks that I find both professionally and personally inspiring and synergistic .  No one today, in the year of 2016 can escape the enduring presence and increasing awareness of the racial tension in our country.  I have a lot of thoughts about this topic, but I would like to first offer a notion from Dan Pink that businesses stop and heed what research tells us. I think we have a road map for addressing the resurging anger and reality that “we can’t all just get along” and our societies inertia in the face of a need.

In summary, Dan Pink says that the business world has been using an outdated model of motivation. They have ignored science and have sought to use carrots and sticks to motivate their employees.  The science says that carrots and sticks work well when asking people to solve simple but not complex problems.  His talk goes on to lay out and give examples of what does work and how we know it works. 

The part I want to focus on today is this first part, are we trying to solve a complex problem with a strategy only proven to work with a simple task? Why do we, as a society, seem unable to tackle the tough questions of eradicating racism, reducing gun violence, and ending the preschool to prison pipeline? I must first suggest that we recognize that these issues are not simple.

We are in need of changing people’s hearts, minds, and behaviors. So what will motivate us? The solution, as Dan Pink says, is not to do more of what doesn’t work.  It does not work to tell people to be nice. It is not even enough to participate in a protest march, pass a law, or change a policy.  I think the first thing we have to do is realize that we are dealing with a complex issue.  Our motivation for change has to come from a deep and more enduring place. We have to stop looking for that one thing that will solve this puzzle. Perhaps it will take many different approaches. We can’t continue to debate the issues.  We must find ways to listen. We can’t ignore these issues and hope that “if I am not acting in a racist way or teaching racism” then I have “done my part.”  If you are silent- you are not part of the solution.   We can’t be satisfied that firing that one person “in charge” will make it all OK.  The systemic problems that allowed that person to be in charge must also be addressed. 

It is easy to be overwhelmed by these complex social issues.  We need INNOVATION - We need to look outside of the box - we need to ask the hard questions and let science, research and history show us the way toward the things that do or may work.  With the right incentives, I think we can be motivated to create a sustained solution.

We can learn from the many circumstances in which people do emerge from poverty. We can study and appreciate the countries and communities that have overcome generations of violence and discrimination.  We can practice radical and counterintuitive strategies for creating trust, hope and wellbeing.

Let’s use strategies that align with fixing complex problems. Let’s expand our scope and with courage and face these complex issues with hope, innovation, and collaboration.