15 June 2010

The freedoms and motivations of personal projects

Engaging presentation by Ji Lee, now of Google creative labs, on how his frustration with the constraints of working in a corporate environment propelled him into his own personal project, The Bubble Project, which spread virally, so launching (or re-launching) his career.

Ji Lee: The Transformative Power of Personal Projects from 99% on Vimeo.

On a related theme but perhaps less engaging, one of many presentations by Daniel Pink, based largely on the work of Daniel Ariely and other social and behavioural economists on what motivates performance in complex, cognitive tasks. The critical word here is 'performance'. Money incentives tend to motivate effort, but not necessarily resultant performance. They can, in fact, 'choke' performance, as can other pressures.

(Have enclosed this particular version, from an RSA conference, just to irritate myself a little as the talk is accompanied by real-time scribing which, imo, and remembering a research review I carried out many years ago for Independent Television Commission, detracts from the content more than it adds to the story.)

Pink's bottom line for gaining commitment to complex, creative tasks is to give enough financial incentive to take money away as an issue, then give autonomy, mastery and purpose. There is I'm sure much in what he says (as evidence he cites examples such as the success of 'unmanaged' and unincentivised Wikipedia compared to Microsoft's managed and incentivised Encarta) but I worry about too direct an extrapolation from social science studies and the reduction of managing complex social settings to a mantra-like prescription. The companies that foster autonomy, mastery and purpose give so much besides in terms of intrinsically interesting tasks, working environments, recognition of individuals etc. etc. All that said, they don't seem a bad starting point for developing employees.

[Both via Ben Ackles]

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