Again: Motivation 101 – How NOT to

October 18, 2013

This is an encore post, mostly.

“A Swift Kick in the Butt $1.00,” A daily strip of the cartoon series “Calvin and Hobbes,” by Bill Watterson. Watterson appears to have an instinctual understanding of what motivation is not. It’s a topic he returned to with some frequency.

Educators don’t know beans about motivation I think. I still see courses offered on “how to motivate” students to do X, or Y, or Z — or how to motivate faculty members to motivate students to do X.

This view of motivation is all wrong, the industrial psychologists and experience say. A student must motivate herself.

A teacher can remove barriers to motivation, or help a student find motivation. But motivation cannot be external to the person acting.

Frederick Herzberg wrote a classic article for The Harvard Business Review several years back: “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” Herzberg would get a group of managers together and ask them, “If I have six week-old puppy, and I want it to move, how do I get it to move?” Inevitably, one of the wizened managers of people would say, “Kick him in the ass!” Is that motivation? Herzberg would ask? Managers would nod “yes.”

Frederick Herzberg, 1923-2000

Frederick Herzberg, 1923-2000

Then, Herzberg would ask what about dealing with the pup six months later. To get the older pup to move, he’d offer a doggie yum, and the dog would come. “Is that motivation?” Herzberg would ask. Again, the managers would agree that it was motivation. (At AMR’s Committing to Leadership sessions, we tried this exercise several hundred times, with roughly the same results. PETA has changed sensitivities a bit, and managers are fearful of saying they want to kick puppies, but they’ll say it in different words.)

Herzberg called this “Kick In The Ass” theory, or KITA, to avoid profanity and shorten the phrase.

Herzberg would then chastise the managers. Neither case was motivation, he’d say. One was violence, a mugging; the other was a bribe. In neither case did the dog want to move, in neither case was the dog motivated. In both cases, it was the manager who was motivated to make the dog move.

Motivation is the desire to do something, the desire and drive to get something done.

Motivating employees is getting them to share the urgency a manager feels to do a task, to go out and do it on their own without being told how to do each and every step along the way.

Motivation is not simply coercing someone else to do what you want, on threat of pain, virtual or real.

Herzberg verified his theories with research involving several thousands of employees over a couple of decades. His pamphlet for HBR sold over a million copies.

Education is wholly ignorant of Herzberg’s work, so far as I can tell. How do I know?

See this, at TexasEd Spectator:

Death threat as a motivation technique

May 23rd, 2008
Education | MySanAntonio.com

The sad part about this is that I bet if a mere, ordinary teacher were to have made some similar statement, he or she would be treated more like the student rather than the principle.

Now imagine if some student at the school had said something along the same lines in a writing assignment. We would be hearing about zero tolerance all over the place. The student would be out of the regular classroom so fast it would make your head spin.

No charges will be brought against New Braunfels Middle School Principal John Burks for allegedly threatening to kill a group of science teachers if their students’ standardized test scores failed to improve, although all four teachers at the meeting told police investigators Burks made the statement.

Kick in the ass, knife in the back, knife in the heart — that ain’t motivation.

As God is my witness, you can’t make this stuff up.

I’m not sure who deserves more disgust, the principal who made the threat and probably didn’t know anything else to do, or the teachers who didn’t see it as a joke, or treat it that way to save the principal’s dignity — or a system where such things are regarded as normal.

Bill Watterson returned to the

Bill Watterson returned to the “Swift Kick in the Butt, $1.00” strip, but this time with the more lively Hobbes Calvin interacted with most often. What would motivate a cartoonist to do that? Watterson is said to have observed, “People will pay for what they want, but not what they need.” Can school administrators even figure out what teachers and students need?  Which version do you prefer? Which one motivates you?

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Leaking of GOP ignorance threatens to turn into a flood

August 28, 2012

My GOP friends tried to say that Todd Akin’s odd views on  pregnancy and rape are a brand of stupid unique to him.  ‘Don’t think all Republicans are that ignorant,’ they said.

Hey, I worked with Republicans and in the Republican Party for years.  I know a lot of bright, intelligent Republicans.

Most of them couldn’t get through the door of the  party these days, if they didn’t already have elected or appointed posts.  Many Republidans come well-acquainted with libraries, books, critical thinking  and an appreciation of art and literature, and at least a rudimentary understanding of science — but alas, they and their views are being smothered by the chuckleheads in the party.

When the Akin flap broke, we were all saddened to learn that he had carried some of those odd views for several years, and that Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and the entire Texas Republican delegation in the House of Representatives joined with Akin last February to try to change the legal definition of rape to match Akin’s views.  How embarrassing, not just to be caught, but to have done that stuff in the first place.

“Aberration,” the Republicans said.

Pennsylvania GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Tom Smith

Pennsylvania GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Tom Smith told reporters pregnancy from rape is about the same as pregnancy from an out-of-wedlock affair. Photo from Tom Smith campaign

Don’t look now, but that trickle from the dam holding back the stupid swelled to a stream, and it’s threatening to erode the dam and unleash all the stupid behind it.

I refer you to the odd and disgusting case of Pennsylvania Republican Tom Smith, the GOP hope to defeat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, reported in the New York Daily News:

Pennsylvania Senate hopeful Tom Smith sparked controversy Monday after he compared a pregnancy resulting from rape to “having a baby out-of-wedlock” – days after Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) shocked many by claiming that “legitimate rape” doesn’t lead to pregnancy.

Smith tried to distance himself from Akin’s comments at the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg, saying that the congressman “should have never said anything like that,” the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported.

But when a reporter asked him what he would do if one of his daughters or granddaughters became pregnant as a result of rape, he said that he had “lived something similar to that with [his] own family,” referring to his daughter’s “out-of-wedlock” pregnancy from consensual sex.

“She chose life, and I commend her for that,” Smith said. “She knew my views but fortunately for me … she chose the way I thought. Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t rape.”

When pressed by another reporter, the 66-year-old reiterated the comparison of his daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy to becoming pregnant from rape.

“Put yourself in a father’s position. Yes, it is similar,” he said.

Smith, who is running against incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in November, later clarified his statements at the same event.

“No … I said I went through a situation [with a daughter]. It’s very, very difficult,” Smith said. “But do I condone rape? Absolutely not. But do I propose life, yes I do. I’m pro-life, period.”

Steve Forbes endorses the odd Tom Smith

Steve Forbes endorses Tom Smith? The scary question is whether Forbes bothered to learn Smith’s views, or did he perhaps endorse Smith knowing about Smith’s odd views, and hoping Smith would push them in Washngton? Smith campaign image.

One might wonder if the real reason the GOP cut their convention short was to prevent more leaks of the truth about their candidates views and odd positions on issues.  Cutbacks in news departments and the shrinking news holes in most newspapers could be partly to blame for these late-breaking stories of stupid.  Generally news stories expose gross ignorance and patent stupidity in primary campaigns, and voters of the parties vote away candidates who hold extreme, bizarre, dangerous or silly views.  News organizations don’t have the staff to expose these things early, and they get exposed late only on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

But there is a very real danger that some people with money are pushing these candidates because of their odd views.  In Texas, Tea Party courtesan Ted Cruz defeated a well-known candidate for the U.S. Senate nomination, and part of his appeal may be his odd views that the United Nations is trying to seize U.S. golf courses.  Democrat Paul Sadler faces an uphill battle even in Texas where Cruz’s friends in oil pipelines are seizing private farm and ranch land.  Cruz claims to fight against an imaginary problem, but he lets the real problems roll right over Texans.

A wise voter without a lot of time to study in depth the views of candidates might be compelled to vote Democratic straight tickets as the safest thing to do, even with a few odd views among Democrats.

How many more?   How many other odd, divorced-from-reality views have residence in the penthouses of the Republican mansion?  Waiting for one more shoe to drop would be bad enough — ignorance in the GOP seems to be a centipede with dozens of shoes.

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Wegman Report plagiarism doesn’t bother George Mason University officials

March 18, 2012

Over at Desmogblog, John Mashey details problems with George Mason University’s conclusions that plagiarism did not really occur in  a report written for Congress that plagiarized several different sources.

If true, not only did GMU violate its own policies on duration, but on process, because they have ignored numerous well-documented complaints, including about 4 papers with Federal funding.  This process involved VP Research Roger Stough, Provost Peter Stearns and President Alan Merten, so it was certainly visible inside GMU.

See No Evil,

Hear No Evil

Speak No Evil … except about Ray Bradley [the fellow who filed the plagiarism complaint], who has yet to receive any report.

The attached report enumerates the problems that GMU managed not to see, shows the chronology of a simple complaint that took almost 2X longer than specified by policy and finally produced an obvious contradiction. People may find GMU’s funding and connections interesting, including similarities and relationships with Heartland Institute.  Finally, readers might recall the WR was alleged to be an attempt to mislead Congress, so this is not just an academic issue.

No e-mails stolen to expose the problem, but still no action against those who deny climate change occurs and will plagiarize papers to make their point.  It’s a not-pretty pass.

I suspect reporters get MEGO syndrome reading the stuff, but Desmogblog points to real problems, real difficulties in science, that deserve to be covered better than they have been.

Go read Mashey’s report and follow the links.

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Scalia and Thomas: Neither is Caesar’s wife

November 18, 2011

It sure looks like a breach of ethics, but James Oliphant writes in the Los Angeles Times that there is no formal rule prohibiting a sitting Supreme Court justice from hobnobbing with a law firm set to argue a gargantuan case in a few months.

The day the Supreme Court gathered behind closed doors to consider the politically divisive question of whether it would hear a challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, two of its justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, were feted at a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case before the high court.

The occasion was last Thursday, when all nine justices met for a conference to pore over the petitions for review. One of the cases at issue was a suit brought by 26 states challenging the sweeping healthcare overhaul passed by Congress last year, a law that has been a rallying cry for conservative activists nationwide.

The justices agreed to hear the suit; indeed, a landmark 5 1/2-hour argument is expected in March, and the outcome is likely to further roil the 2012 presidential race, which will be in full swing by the time the court’s decision is released.

The lawyer who will stand before the court and argue that the law should be thrown out is likely to be Paul Clement, who served as U.S. solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration.

Clement’s law firm, Bancroft PLLC, was one of almost two dozen firms that helped sponsor the annual dinner of the Federalist Society, a longstanding group dedicated to advocating conservative legal principles. Another firm that sponsored the dinner, Jones Day, represents one of the trade associations that challenged the law, the National Federation of Independent Business.

Another sponsor was pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc, which has an enormous financial stake in the outcome of the litigation. The dinner was held at a Washington hotel hours after the court’s conference over the case. In attendance was, among others, Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican and an avowed opponent of the healthcare law.

The featured guests at the dinner? Scalia and Thomas.

One wishes for some of the usual journalistic “balancing,” with someone to note who among the crowd represents the opposite side in the case, and someone else to note that the dinner had a lot of other sponsors.  But one might get uneasy thinking that the usual journalistic balancing can’t be mustered here, and that Scalia and Thomas just don’t care about appearances of ethical violations, if they can get away with it.

Lower court judges have clear ethical guidance on the issue, counseling against such appearances:

It’s nothing new: The two justices have been attending Federalist Society events for years. And it’s nothing that runs afoul of ethics rules. In fact, justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct that governs the actions of lower federal judges.

If they were, they arguably fell under code’s Canon 4C, which states,A judge may attend fund-raising events of law-related and other organizations although the judge may not be a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program of such an event.“

Those rules do not apply to the nine people who sit on the nation’s highest court.

In those few times I lunched with Thomas and worked with him, when he staffed environmental issues for Indiana’s Missouri’s Sen. John Danforth, I found him an agreeable lunch companion and smart, but a great idealogue.  Had I known then what we all know now, I would have paid closer attention, asked different and sharper  questions, and kept notes.  And I might have dropped a few hints about history, and Caesar’s wife.  Supreme Court justices should consider themselves wedded to the American republic, and act accordingly.

What do you think, Dear Reader?  Was this a violation of ethics, even if not required by the rules that apply to Supreme Court justices?


The library of non-pornography spam

November 18, 2011

Spam evolves.

Recent crackdowns on the mega-scale spammers cut spam intercepted by filters at a site like this one from several thousand per day to a few hundred, or even less.  Until recently, most of that spam came from pornography sites.  That meant that, with a few keyword searches of the mountains of spam, a weblog owner could separate out most of the bad stuff, and rescue the few legitimate messages that somehow ran afoul of the filters.

But, spam evolves.  In the past month Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub fell victim to one or several bot programs that insert non-pornographic comments into messages from hijacked or legitimate, but commercial, e-mail messages.  Our spam totals have crept upwards once again.  We get a thousand spam messages one more than one day a week now.  Because I hate to lose any legitimate comments, I try to sift through that stuff to find errors.  It’s frustrating.

No Spam sign from stock.xchng

Please, no spam comments here!

Today some poor bastard spammer’s machine broke down, and I got a comment in the spam filters that features many of the lines used by the bots — and you can see why spam filters might have difficulty with them.  Below is the bulk of that comment, featuring dozens of spam lines.  Instead of just one line that my spam filter would probably catch, I got — how many? — more than I bothered to count.  It all came in one comment.

One might be struck by the inanity of the work displayed here.  Some person, a thinking, breathing human being who probably hopes his or her children won’t hate him or her, bothered to write up all these bland, colorless lines, in hopes they would evade spam filters.  What a waste of human effort.  Oh, the humanity — or lack of it!

Can someone automate the process of purging these things from comments altogether?  I can only hope.  Here are the lines, for the record, more than 4,000 words intended solely to clog up the tubes of the internet and frustrate blog owners and blog readers.

The library of non-pornography spam

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Hi, thanks for all the users, I will upload many more videos in coming days, admin

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Friends, Romans, and Jackson whoever you may be, please quit sending me all of those messages.  Quit sending them to anyone.  Stop abusing this device we call the internet, eh?


Naomi Oreskes on the political need for truth-telling in climate change

November 11, 2011

The too-often odious Huffington Post features an interview with Naomi Oreskes, one of the authors of Merchants of Doubt.

You should read the interview (and the book, if you haven’t yet):

[Kerry Trueman]:The real mystery, then, is how to persuade American skeptics that we face profound disruptions in our own lifetime and that of our children. Can you describe, in a lay-person friendly way, some of the scenarios we might anticipate?

[Naomi Oreskes]: Well, the best example is the “monster storm” that just hit Alaska, described by one media outlet as a storm of “epic proportions.” Climate change is underway, it is affecting American citizens, and it is going to become increasingly costly and disruptive.

We are no longer talking about the future, about people far away in time and space. We are talking about us, now. I think this is what Americans do not yet understand. But if current trends continue, they will soon. Climate change is all around us, and most of it is not good.

More, there.

More at the Bathtub:


Ethics in climate science: How do we know what we know?

August 12, 2011

It’s almost an arcane fight, but it’s an important one — if you’re going to discuss climate science and the policies required to clean up pollution that causes destruction of our planet, can we at least agree to stick to the facts, the real facts?

John Mashey is a computer smart guy who jumped into the fray to point out that most opponents to doing anything to stop the destruction have a social or economic interest in stopping the action and continuing the destruction, something Mashey determined from looking at the networks linking the people involved.  There’s a lot of howling about Mashey’s pointing out that the emperor is a crook.  So far he’s been proved correct.

An academic group you probably never heard of, the National Association of Scholars, has an elected leader who decided to take after Mashey, rather than clean up the house.  Peter Wood writes a column for the  Chronicle of Higher Education, and sadly, their editorial mavens appear not to have fact checked it.  To their credit, they allowed Mashey’s response.

Comments are brutal.

Here’s how Tim Lambert described it at Deltoid:

John Mashey and Rob Coleman have a guest post at The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s blog replying to Peter Wood’s hit piece.

Wood’s article misused the platform of CHE. Its relevance to the concerns of CHE was minimal. It had little purpose but to damage the reputation of one of us, John Mashey, and the climate scientist Michael Mann, whom Wood has often denigrated elsewhere. The political false-association tactics were obvious. Climate scientists are under incessant attack, a fact strongly decried the day before Wood’s article by the AAAS Board. The muddy battlefield of blogs and media has now arrived on the CHE premises, easily seen in the comments.

If one tells the truth in climate science, one needs thick skin.  Go read Mashey’s piece before you read the comments.  More background from Lambert, here.

And the context you need:  Only one study on climate change has actually been retracted over the past couple of years — no, not any of those noting that warming occurs, not any of those that use the graph famously described as “a hockey stick,” but the piece that pulled together all the criticism of the science, at the behest of Republicans on the environment committees in the U.S. Congress, called the Wegman Report.  And it was John Mashey who assembled the extensive and sometimes elegant case that the Wegman Report was plagiarized and wrong.

This is, indeed, a case of trying to kill the messenger’s reputation.

Am I the only one suspicious that the National Association of Scholars may have been named to foster confusion about the authority of reports, say from the National Academy of Sciences, the long-time science advisory group to presidents whose reports urge action to stop climate change?  Notice their acronyms are the same.


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