Archive for May 2010


How much did that meeting cost?

Imagine a clock designed for meetings. It tells the time, which is handy. But it also keeps a running tally of the cost of the meeting in staff salaries. As the minutes tick away, so the total sum rises.

It’s a thought that must have occurred zillions of times to people as they see highly-paid staff trapped in interminable, unproductive discussions.

A US company has done something about it, and is marketing a portable timer that calculates the cost. With Bring Tim, you key in the number of people at the meeting, and a guesstimate of the average salary. And watch the dollars mount up.

Rewards don’t work

When it comes to motivation, rewards don’t work that well. They can be good for purely mechanistic tasks. But if there’s a degree of cognitive skill in the task, a larger reward will lead to poorer performance.

Got that? Offer a large reward and performance drops.

Dan Pink, author of bestselling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, admits this sounds like a weird socialist conspiracy. Except that it was the finding of research funded by the US Federal Reserve Bank, which is not a hotbed of radical conspirators. Nor was it a one-off, anomalous experimental result. The apparently counter-intuitive finding has been replicated many times by economists, psychologists, and sociologists, says Pink.

Money is not a motivator. True, if people are not paid enough, they won’t be motivated. But if they are paid enough, money ceases to motivate.

So what does motivate people? The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, says Pink, but an unseen intrinsic drive. “The drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter.”

Dan Pink identifies essential separate but interdependent elements:

  • Autonomy, the desire to be self-directed. Management’s task is to get out of the way.
  • Mastery, the urge to get better at stuff.
  • Purpose, the need to feel that what you are doing contributes to a greater good that you value.

Pink gave an entertaining Ted talk developing this, below. Or if you like a shorter version, based on a ten-minute talk he gave to the RSA, complete with quick draw animation, try the one below it.

No vibrations

What’s it like working in the new cabinet? Ringless, apparently. Prime minister David Cameron has told members they cannot have their mobile phones and Blackberrys with them during cabinet meetings.

You can see the sense. Though having 25 or so very busy people handing them in somewhere and collecting them afterwards sounds a bit of a palaver. Do they all have lockers? Or write their names on their Blackberrys so they can find them quick?

Or is looking after a cabinet minister’s mobby a task now assigned to eagerly ambitious parliamentary private secretaries?