For half a year, I have been allowed to participate in Manage&More, an activity of unternehmerTUM. My official role is that of a mentor, and a mentee has been assigned to me. Until recently, I never even knew what a mentee was, but now I am a mentee myself, namely in wikipedia. But that is another story.
My mentee’s name is Michael, which incidentally fits perfectly with the headline of this article. Michael is a nice and authentic guy. In former times, I would have characterized him as “a guy you can steal horses with”. We meet every 4-6 weeks and discuss a pre-defined topic. Sometimes one of us reports while the other responds, sometimes the roles are reversed. In this way, we learn a lot from each other. In preparation for our last meeting, Michael sent me an email saying: “Let us talk about motivation!?” That was a topic I found quite attractive. After all, I myself often wonder about the state of my motivation in general and in particular why there are some topics I find it hard to motivate myself for. I prepared for our meeting by – as almost always – looking it up in wikipedia, where I found quite a bit about motivation. When printed it totalled 13 pages and there was hardly anything wrong or really unimportant.
Michael wanted to talk motivation with me because there had been a feedback discussion where some of his peers had criticized him for sometimes clearly showing his lack of motivation for certain topics. This failure, so he was told, de-motivates others. And like all upright people, the first thing he did was to consider himself guilty. But pretending is not his style at all.
The interesting question was: what to do if you have to take part in a discussion about something that seems totally senseless to you. I think this occasionally happens to all of us, probably more often in big organisations than in small ones.
Is the answer that you should pretend, hide your lack of interest, speed things up in order to finish the gruesome discussion as fast as possible, so you can get back to more important and pleasanter jobs? Or should you honestly tell the others that you consider the topic irrelevant and that the project would not benefit from your presence, and then leave the discussion with a friendly: “You can discuss this better without me. Call me when you have finished this topic!”?
Here is another idea: you could take on the unloved topic and ask yourself how to make the topic interesting? This would surely result in good material for the discussion, or else would cause you to modify your own point of view.
If, however, you really believe that something is absolute nonsense, then you should have the courage to say so and to suggest an innovative improvement; even if you are resigned to the power of impersonal autonomous systems and you see no chance to improve matters.
As you can see, the problem is not easily solved. I believe that pretending and keeping up appearances is the worst solution.
Subsequently, we talked about Freud’s ID, EGO and SUPER-EGO and that the three should be “centred”. Then we found that we are both (at least) a class better when motivated for a task and that motivation must come from within. When it is externally supported by material gain or agreed targets, it declines amazingly. This is how we came to “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” motivation, both of which are excellently described in wikipedia under motivation.
Then I told Michael about the “motivation bosom”. This concerns how the performance of employees in an enterprise depends on their collective and individual contentment. Imagine a graph with “total contentment” on the left side of the x-axis and “total discontent” on the right side. The y-axis shows the performance. At the extreme right and extreme left, the performance is zero. Coming from the left, the graph rises, i.e. starting with a high degree of contentment, the performance grows with growing discontent. Then it remains on a plateau for some time before declining in a state of general discontent. As the discontent increases even further, the performance again increases, more steeply than before, until it abruptly falls.
Thus, we have a graph with two humps, which accounts for the name. The left hump on the satisfaction side is a little lower than the right, but a lot broader. The right hump on the dissatisfaction side is narrow, with a very steep decline on the right side (almost vertical). The “motivation bosom” theory says that it is better for an enterprise regarding satisfaction/dissatisfaction to be on the first (left) plateau. Unavoidable changes in the level of satisfaction will not immediately result in a big reduction of performance. Conversely, on the thin right hump, even small changes can lead to an abrupt drop in performance, whether on the right side (collapse due to burnout) or on the left (giving up). To me, it seems that there are companies that try to keep their employees on the narrow right plateau of considerable dissatisfaction in order to have a slightly better performance, attempting to prevent the threatening abrupt fall-off by offering extremely high incomes. This could apply particularly to US companies even though the above theory originated in the USA.
Although I remember the literature on “motivation bosom” well, I found it neither in wikipedia, nor in google (at least not in the German versions). What a surprise that it is still possible not to find a popular theory in the internet! Of course, now I am tempted to do some research and write an article for wikipedia, but I am still primarily a managing director and a few weeks ago an economically difficult time suddenly started! Writing articles and lecturing, and this blog too, are just a hobby of mine, and so are not top priority. If only I had more time… Which reminds me of a popular song (careful – music): Gene Pitney – If I Only Had Time …