Motivation

I am sitting at Thai Chaba, in Calabasas. I said I might scribble 500 words at lunch, and Nicole Michelle (@TheNicole_C) prompted me to, so I will, but it will probably look different than she expects.

I have, of late, been thinking about motivation, specifically motivation at work. I've been looking at this both from the standpoint of the employer, the employee, and in combination, that of the self-employed.

I will touch a little later on what this means for the writer, as this writing is somewhat preoccupied by this strange specimen in particular.

As human beings, setting aside for this purpose the religious creationistic component, we are driven primarily by the instinct of self-preservation, which generally manifests itself as fear. As animals, no matter advanced we may be, we primarily care about our own survival. As an animal, also, we are a living organism, and as such are part of life on Earth (and beyond?). Further, then, we are driven, at a more fundamental level, a more subconscious level, by our own specie's quest for survival, both short-term and long-term. By short-term, I mean the continued living of the members of the specie. By long-term I mean the specie's ability to evolve to continue to overcome threats caused by changes in the environment. In the short term, though, the survival of the group becomes paramount, at the expense of the individual.

I believe that there are functions of the brain that are specifically designed to reward the abnegation of self-preservation for the benefit of the community. Although I must think further along this line of reasoning to be more definite, I already glimpse how this could be seen as religion's need for selflessness to reach true individual fulfillment.

Returning now to the discussion of motivation, I think we truly feel motivated when we are able to sense that our works, the actions of our hands, benefit others. That they also benefit us as a side-effect complements the bond we form with others.

By creating value for others, real tangible value that helps feed, protect, and grow others, we also create value for ourselves, a value for which we feel prideful, and rightly so, because we have reinforced, by our works, the bond between others and ourselves. In exchange, society gives us also better lives, with more food, better shelter, and growth. This is partially in the form of money, with which to purchase food, shelter, etc, at the marketplace, but also in the form of gratitude, true friendship, and kindness.

The social aspect of remuneration for work performed is difficult for companies to manage, if at all. By disallowing such, though, companies drive away true motivation, leaving only selfish pursuit, at the expense of life's group survival prerogative.

Individuals in companies who feel that their contributions are not appreciated, not valued, not rewarded beyond money will lose motivation, as they will no longer feel they are contributing to mankind as a group, and, beginning perversely to feel the opposite, will begin to feel ostracized, unappreciated, and alone.

Those who continue in that environment will find themselves pursuing more and more profits, and personal power as a means to allay their fears. This will lead individuals to turn their back on common decency, kindness, and a sense of responsibility for the well-being of others.

Their moral compass thus compromised, they make decisions which, at first glance, may seem to be in the company's best interest, boosting profits and shareholder equity, but which also further erode and ultimately destroy the motivation of its employees.

What ensues is a sort of Ponzi-scheme, where companies hire more and more employees, who, fresh hires all, bring new motivation to the workplace, enough, management hopes, to counter the demotivated older workforce, essentially hiding old debt with new money, only to repeat the cycle with more money and more incentives when the latest batch of hires finally realizes their humanity has been stripped off their hearts and they are now golden-shackled into an inhumane, degrading system.

Now we glimpse that while the short-term benefit might seem worthy of reward, the long-term damage to the company is horrendous. Filled with ranks of demotivated, power and money-hungry individuals with no sense of duty toward others but only to their own selfish desires, they drive away the remnant who truly cared about the customer's welfare, and like a mutant army, feed on each other, discarding hulks of spent men and women on the corporate trash heap, oblivious to the horrified collective stare of the rest of society.

For example, when I hear management say. "It just has to be done." Implying, one, that some poor bloke is going to be told, in so many words: "You do this or things will go very bad for you." And two, that currently nobody is motivated to do it. One has to then ask: Why does it have to be done if arguably it does not provide value to the customer and society at large?

Some will say that the people who turn the wrenches do not need to concern themselves with why and with the value, as they are paid for doing, not for thinking. This, however, flies in the face of senior management's calls for improvements and dedication to the customer by everyone in the organization.

Either the wrench-turner looks for improvements out of a sense of improving things for the customer, and thereby reclaim some of his pride in work, or he follows, unthinking, zombie-like, his direct supervisor's every command, no matter how futile, contradictory, of self-serving.

The cost of such compliance and docility is that the company will have to mandate good behavior, such as honesty and work ethics, creating yet another inefficient bureaucracy to monitor and report compliance, because the human employees, adrift in a mesmerizing maze of policies and procedures, dare not follow their own human sense of kindness, of fairness, of compassion, lest they too be the target of management's brutal henchmen: the dreaded Human Resources department.

It is thus simple mathematics that companies with happy, motivated, hard-working, and customer-focused employees have to spend less money than their grey-faced-drone counterparts, and thus, long-term, will provide a higher return to their shareholders.

In the end, companies that fight human nature lose.

What does this have to do with writers?

Writers, for a long time, in order to get a proper book published, had to go through a publishing house, and such businesses nowadays are all about making money for the shareholders. As a result, the books selected for publications had to fit a format that conformed to the publisher's revenue model.

This led to the perverse situation where writers no longer wrote what they wanted to write, but what they thought publishers wanted to publish, and publishers only wanted to publish what they thought readers wanted to read, so this led to more of the same, and this more of the same turned into more of the same by established authors and into more of the same by established authors writing book after book in never-ending series.

And I stopped going to bookstores, because it was boring.

But, authors, you can cut the middle-man who tells you to write this or that for the money. Now you can still write what you like and get the money, because you can make connections with readers using social media.

Don't try to make yourself look like a company. People hate companies. Don't have a sales@yourcompany.com email. Rather, have yourname@gmail.com or hotmail.com or yahoo.com (etc, evidently).

When you make art, meaning, stuff that changes human beings when they experience it, make art that you like, be it writing, music, drawing, etc. Make stuff that changes you, that delights you, that makes you feel good being a human being living among human beings. Give people a way to give back to you. If you do this, I am fairly confident that it will resonate with them, and that you will do well. Value, in the economic sense, will come along when you create human-to-human value through works that encourage kindness, compassion, understanding, and growth.

What about entertainment? People want stories, but they want stories that wrap up these concepts. They don't want stories about enslavement without emancipation. They don't want threats without the removal of the threat. Some people call that feel good stories. I call that feel human stories.

What about the pathological psychopaths running the corporations? They go out of business eventually, and the workers are freed from oppression. After a while, after the darkness has been washed away by sunlight from actual sunshine, after the sense of shame has been set aright by the smiles and encouraging words of friends and strangers, the human returns to his former self and refuses, from that day on, to demean themselves by working for the zombie-mob.

Companies, this is when you get to acquire a great employee. This person will resist the mindless manager, and instead will deliver value, real value, to both internal and external cutomers. And he will no longer compromise his principles in order to satify the whims of a money-focused manager.

Once you have that kind of workforce, you can take on your competition head-on and take all their customers from them.

Writers, likewise. You are your own manager. Don't force the writer within to write for the money. Let him write for the love. The money will come. If he needs more training, better tools, etc, invest in your writer-within, just as an enlightened company provides tools and training to its workers.

Then let go the reins and let the horse run.

October 2014.

© 2014 Christopher Mahan