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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Flag etiquette: Cowboys Wal-Mart fail on flag flying

December 24, 2012

C’mon, Cowboys Wal-Mart — you can do better than this! As displayed, the U.S. flag is on the wrong side (should be on our left as we view); from the other side, they are both upside down.

Texas and U.S. flags improperly displayed at the Wal-Mart across the street from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Flags are either backward, or upside down. Photo by Ed Darrell, from my iPhone. Any reuse of image requires proper attribution.

Texas and U.S. flags improperly displayed at the Wal-Mart across the street from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Flags are either backward, or upside down. Photo by Ed Darrell, from my iPhone. Any reuse of image requires proper attribution.

The white-shirted guy is one of two Mormon missionaries doing their shopping for the week; had I not had to wait for them, I may not have looked around to notice the improper flag display.

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How to start a hoax against a presidential candidate

June 29, 2008

Hoax complaints against presidential candidates are old ideas. In 1796, Alexander Hamilton paid newspaper editors to print stories saying Thomas Jefferson was atheist. It was a minor theme in that campaign, but after John Adams’ political fortunes foundered on the Alien and Sedition Acts, among other missteps, Hamilton stepped up the attacks in the election of 1800.

Jefferson’s great biographer, Dumas Malone, estimates that by election day, fully half the American electorate believed Jefferson was atheist. Jefferson made a perfect target for such a charge — staunch advocate of religious freedom, he thought it beneath the dignity of a politician to answer such charges at all, so he did not bother to deny them publicly. Ministers in New England told their congregations they would have to hide their Bibles because, as president, Jefferson would send troops to confiscate them.

In a warning to hoaxers, we might hope, Americans elected Jefferson anyway.

Such nefariousness plagues campaigns today, still. Boone Pickens, who helped fund the Swiftboat Veterans’ calumny against war hero John Kerry, has an offer to pay $1 million to anyone who can show the charges false. In a replay of Holocaust denial cases, Pickens refuses to accept any evidence to pay the award, last week turning away the affidavits of the men who were present at the events.

At the Bathtub, we’ve already sampled a crude and steady attempt to brand Hillary Clinton a Marxist with creative editing of a few of her speeches.

The assaults on Barack Obama are already the stuff of legend. The comic strip, “Doonesbury,” is running a story line with a volunteer for the internet rumor stopping part of the campaign, FighttheSmears.com. The smears are real.

Doonesbury strip 6-28-2008

Matthew Most of the Washington Post wrote a lengthy piece in yesterday’s paper, “An attack that came out of the ether,” on the research done by a woman at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, on the origins of the internet hoax that Barack Obama is a Muslim — a rumor so potent that Georgetown University Prof. Edward Luttwak repeated it in a New York Times op-ed article, without the fact checkers catching it (the Times consulted five scholars of Islam who all agreed the foundation for the claim is incorrect).

Danielle Allen has tracked the rumor back to its sources, in a failed campaign against Obama in Illinois and a candidate who admittedly was looking for mud, and one constant sniper at FreeRepublic.com. It’s impressive sleuthing, and the article would be a good departure for study of how media affect campaigns in a government or civics class.

The “how to” list is really very short:

  • Pick an area of a candidate’s life that is not well known. As the Hamilton campaign against Jefferson demonstrates, it’s useful if the candidate does not feature the issue in official biographies, and more useful if the candidate doesn’t respond. Michael Dukakis let several issues slide in his campaign for the presidency, saying that he didn’t think the public would be misled. The public was waiting for a rebuttal.
  • It helps if there is a factoid that is accurate in the rumor. Obama’s father was Muslim. Most Americans were receptive to the false claim that in Islam, a child is considered Muslim unless there is a conversion. A part of the rumor claims Obama was never baptized Christian. Of course, no one has asked to see John McCain’s baptismal papers. One wonders whether a rumor about McCain’s not being born inside the U.S. could get similar traction among voters (McCain was born in Panama while his father was serving in the Panama Canal Zone in the Navy; children of U.S. citizens are automatically U.S. citizens regardless where they are born. The issue was litigated during Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, since Goldwater was born in Arizona before Arizona was a state.)

According to the Post story: [A] search showed that the first mention of the e-mail on the Internet had come more than a year earlier. A participant on the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.com posted a copy of the e-mail on Jan. 8, 2007, and added this line at the end: “Don’t know who the original author is, but this email should be sent out to family and friends.”

Allen discovered that theories about Obama’s religious background had circulated for many years on the Internet. And that the man who takes credit for posting the first article to assert that the Illinois senator was a Muslim is Andy Martin.

Martin, a former political opponent of Obama’s, is the publisher of an Internet newspaper who sends e-mails to his mailing list almost daily. He said in an interview that he first began questioning Obama’s religious background after hearing his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

  • Repeat the claim, as often as possible, to audiences that are inflamed by it. No one would dare make such a claim before an audience of Democratic delegates from the Texas 23rd Senatorial District Democratic Convention, almost 80% of whom were black — at least not at the convention. However, flyers making the charge might show up on windows of cars parked during church services at Christian churches where delegates attend. A speaker at the Republican convention for the same district might not be hooted down. This rumor of Obama’s faith went to right-wing forums known for rumor hospitality, notably Free Republic. In forums at that site, rumors frequently appear to be judged on just how damaging they might be if true, not on their veracity.
  • Repeat the claim, even after denials.

The story is well worth reading. It can help educate us to how to avoid being victims of such rumors in the future.

Tip of the old scrub brush to e-mail correspondent MicahBrown.


Motivation 101 – How NOT to

June 2, 2008

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.

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 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. 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.

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.


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