Tag Archives: Media

Science and Motivation

Not too long ago, Dan Pink held a very interesting TED talk on the nature of motivation. The speech is twenty minutes, so I’ll try to summarize. What business commonly assumes about motivation is wrong. Monetary or reward incentives tend to make people think more about the reward and less about the problems they are trying to solve. This philosophy took root because it was great for very simple tasks like the ones  you would find in a factory.  Unfortunately, today we live in a world where the knowledge work to design the factory is more valuable than the work that goes on inside. Providing people with the autonomy to do their own work properly provides much more motivation than a simple Christmas bonus. In fact, the introduction of such rewards can kill the creative thinking they are trying to foster.

Pink’s argument is a great example of unexamined ideas being sacrosanct even in our so-called age of rationality. There was a grain of truth to that carrot-and-stick philosophy, but when held up to scrutiny, its flaws make it impractical. You could even blame the current economic crisis on extrinsic motivation. The financial compensation offered to the captains of the financial industry may have blinded them to the fact that dealing in bad credit is no way to run a bank.

While the focus on intrinsic motivation may allow us to solve many problems, it’s something people have pondered for centuries. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.” It may be scientifically proven wisdom, but it’s wisdom nonetheless, which has a habit of being warmed over by fanaticism and repetition until it contradicts its original meaning.

Dan Pink describes extrinsic motivation as a lazy and dangerous ideology.  I know he’s trying to make the strongest point possible for a 20-minute talk on a subject that encompasses an entire book, but I can see how his words could be twisted around. What if people start to believe that no incentive is the best incentive? Monetary rewards might not work, but the other three rewards Pink talks about, autonomy, mastery, and purpose still need to be there. Lack of any compensation might interfere with those three concepts. What if we try to apply intrinsic motivation to tasks that are too simple? Can we expect people to follow and uphold the law without the extrinsic disincentives of police and prisons?

Like any other complex problem, motivation is not something achieved through glib slogans and magic bullets. Dan Pink’s research was the result of a lot of creativity, observation and hard work. We can only apply his ideas when we incorporate those qualities in ourselves.

Vote For Brown Note

My friend Tarra has a T-shirt design approved for voting on Threadless.com. If enough people vote for her design, it will not only be offered for sale on Threadless, but she stands to win $2000 and $500 worth of shirts. With that in mind, I have decided to use what little social media leverage I have to make sure it gets as many votes as possible. Sign up and vote for Brown Note!
Brown Note - Threadless T-shirts, Nude No More

The 90-9-1 Rule of Social Media

I want to direct your attention over to this rule often quoted by social media start-ups, the 90-9-1 rule for participation. It’s basically a ratio for internet users. 90% of them are lurkers. They just read posts and articles, they never comment, never share, and never click on one of those ajax-powered “thumbs-up” links. 9% are part-time contributers, you might hear from them only once in a while. 1% is the ratio of users on any given website or online community that produces 90% of the content. You almost begin to wonder if they ever see sunlight, but you see them over and over again on all your favorite websites.

With statistics like this, you begin to wonder, how democratic is the internet, really? If such a small ratio of users is producing all the content, are we really that much better served by the internet than traditional forms of media? There are several recommendations for addressing the inequality in participation by rewarding contributing users and making it easier to contribute in the first place. I think even deeper concerns about our society will have to be addressed before we make the internet the free speech utopia that we hope it to be. No one wants to write anything they’ll regret later. The media is full of moral panic stories about public figures posting information on the internet that they would later regret, as was the case with NDP candidate Ray Lam in the last BC election. On the other hand, people might avoid contributing because they fear they’ll be ignored. By the time they’ve come up with something witty to post in the comments section, the article they were reading is buried underneath dozens of subsequent posts. I’d like everyone reading this to consider what goes through their head when they post a comment, or decide not to. Either way, if I am lucky, perhaps you will post your results in the comments below.

Dr. Drew Pinsky and the Mirror Effect


People like to complain about the weather, but no one seems to be doing anything about it. When it comes to tawdry celebrity stories about addiction, Dr. Drew takes it on the way only an actual medical doctor can.

I found out about Dr. Drew through stories told by Adam Carolla on his podcast. They both hosted a radio call in show called Loveline for 11 years. He’s also been practicing addiction medicine for over twenty years, making him one of the most knowledgeable people in the media on the subject. While most drug use critics and advocates are motivated by politics, Dr. Drew talks more about the science behind drug addiction rather than the moral posturing surrounding it. A common thread among his patients, which include some celebrities, is a high level of narcissism, which he talks about in his new book, The Mirror Effect.

Narcisissm. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? That’s the reason we’re bombarded by celebrity news, featuring empty-headed young slackers in a competition to see who can go on the worst bender, isn’t it? Well, it is, but not in the way you would think. Narcissism is not the same thing as vanity. In fact, it’s the product of intense self-loathing. People who have a high level of narcissism create a persona that is outgoing and confident to make up for their lack of self-esteem. Actually, most healthy people do this. Celebrities have high narcissism because it helps them deal with the rejection that comes with trying to be an actor or a musician. It becomes a problem when it divorces people from reality. Narcissistic people turn to drugs, sexual promiscuity, and other dangerous behavior in order to cope with their lack of self esteem and any other trauma they might have. The mirror effect the book refers to is the concern that the pervasiveness of celebrity bad behavior will serve as modeling behavior to people with high narcissism, including children and young adults. Narcissism is not necessarily the cause of these problems, but it does increase the severity and scale of them.

If there is one thing that I took away from Dr. Drew’s book, it’s that addictive behavior is an extremely complex psychological problem. Each individual’s path to recovery is different, and it’s achieved through slow, incremental changes. I’ve also been listening to Dr. Drew’s new radio show as a podcast on iTunes. One of the things that he said that really stuck with me was that a patient’s prognosis for cancer is better than drug addiction. If you walk into a hospital with lymphoma, you have a better chance of walking out of there than the guy who’s hooked on Demerol. I would really like to know what he thinks of the problem of the Downtown Eastside. Vancouver may have some advantages since the addicts are crowded around such a small area, but it would be nice to actually see addiction treated as a disease from a medical science point of view.

The Great Maginot Line of China

Via Mayerson on Animation

Here’s a video by Clay Shirky, author of the recent bestseller “Here comes Everybody”. He gives a little more detail to the kind of changes that are happening to mass media. I love it when he describes the Great Fire Wall of China as the Maginot line of the digital age. If you think about it, any countermeasures against transmitting or processing data are ultimately just as avoidable as the Maginot Line was. It goes against the basic tenets of what a computer is supposed to do, kind of like trying to stop an internal combustion engine using a fire extinguisher.  It’s especially ironic considering that China manufactures most of the devices that it’s so desperately trying to hobble.