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March 2018

Motivation and Psychopathology


One of the truly difficult things to come to terms with is the failure of the ‘system’. By which I mean your system, my system, anybody’s system. It’s as if we invest so much time and effort and creativity into inventing systems that we cannot accept when they fail or crash. The financial crash of 2008 is a classic example. Of course, when we look at it now, it seemed obvious that it had to happen, but as it unfolded at the time there was a general incredulity as to how it could have occurred. Wasn’t the financial sector employing the best brains in the country? Wasn’t the regulation quality assured? Didn’t the politicians and Government actively promote and endorse what was going on? Hm.

All systems fail; just when we think we’ve cracked ‘it’, it cracks! For example, there are many things we can do to improve our recruitment processes, including using psychometrics, systematic interviewing processes, CV checks and so on. Yet, still the duff candidate gets the job and upends the ‘systematic’ procedures.

My own product, Motivational Maps, is a wonderful and systematic device for discovering what motivates and how motivated people are; further, its Reward Strategies package can help managers and directors really identify how to get their teams energized and moving. But there’s always one person for whom the Map doesn’t apply. Strangely, this is not because the Map is inaccurate, but because the Map cannot measure what some people carry around with them: psychopathology!

For these people, whatever their personality traits or their motivational profile, there is a bigger agenda that must be followed. Perhaps a good word for this would be obsession – an obsession that destroys reason, logic and all internal coherence.

Norman F. Dixon’s wonderful book on the Psychology of Military Incompetence has a useful section on the difference between the autocratic (which can sometimes be justified) and the authoritarian leader, which is psychopathological (and cannot be justified).

The behavioural characteristics of the authoritarian personality, he says, are:


(1) Conventionality: a rigid adherence to middle-class values. We all know this person. They always do things ‘by the rules’, to the point at which it becomes almost impossible to be spontaneous or to create anything new. Often, when asked why a certain process is the way it is, or why the company follows certain procedures, the reply will be ‘Because we’ve always done it this way’.


(2) Submissiveness: to the idealized moral authority of the group with which s/he identifies self, and to higher authority. As far as the authoritarian is concerned, hierarchy is all, regardless of hypocrisy, corruption or abuse. If the CEO has ordered that all employees are no longer allowed to drink tea during office hours, then it must be right, regardless of the patent negative impact, and frankly dehumanising ideology behind such a move. You might think that example is far-fetched, but I have seen it in more than one company, where a CEO (or ‘Company President’ where they adopt the American vernacular) is so determined to control his/her workforce, that they are prepared to infringe on the most basic pleasures – making a good cuppa after a tough morning.


(3) Aggressiveness: towards those who violate conventional values. These authoritarian individuals often will behave aggressively towards those who challenge convention, shutting them down, cutting across them while they are mid-way through making a point. Picture the scene, if you will: a team is having a meeting with their middle-manager. One of the team is highly respected by his fellows because of his positive attitude. This respected team member is ‘whacky’, often talking about subjects which are not traditionally work-appropriate, but it is this whackiness which really lifts the spirits of the team on a hard day’s shift. The authoritarian middle-manager opens up the floor at the end of the meeting, asking the team for suggestions. The ‘whacky’ team member takes the opportunity to put up his hand and offer a suggestion. Begrudgingly, the manager let’s them talk, but the others can already sense the hostility. After thirty seconds, the manager interrupts, shutting down the suggestion and deriding it as unworkable, unrealistic, and unhelpful. This behaviour not only reinforces the ‘control’ model of management (talked about in an earlier article), thereby making any attempt to ask for suggestions frankly redundant, but also humiliates one of the colleagues, ostracizing them, and cautionioning the others against befriending them. Of course, often these tactics backfire, as picking out a respected colleague normally only unifies the team against the manager.


(4) Anti-intraceptive: opposes the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded. God forbid, that someone use their imagination at work. Authoritarians actively fear those who are creative, because creativity poses a threat to established order. It is ironic that we, as a society, are deeply critical of the rigid inflexibility of medieval thinking (where they quite literally destroyed anything or anyone that opposed the Christian model of understanding) and yet much of the modern business landscape persists with this mode. We attack that which questions, or raises concern, or offers solution.


(5) Stereotypy: disposition to stereotype and think in rigid categories. Have you ever heard your manager talking about an employee that irritates them in broad, borderline offensive terms? It is probably because they are authoritarian and therefore may have a tendency to stereotype (irony intended). For example, how many managers insist their employees are ‘lazy’ or ‘greedy’ when in fact they are worked to death and do not even make a third of what their manager makes? Studies have revealed that only 65% of people are paid for their overtime. The average person loses £4,500 a year from not accurately claiming their overtime. How, then, can so many employees be ‘greedy’ or ‘lazy’ if in fact the majority work more than they are supposed to and get paid less than they have earned? Stereotypy does not permit these facts, however, because they challenge an ordered world. You will often find sexism is a huge part of stereotypy. Women are not paid as much as men, and managers justify this with excuses such as: ‘They’re just going to get pregnant and leave us’ or ‘They don’t work as hard: they spend more time talking’. We must move away from this mode of reductionism, and embrace that all people are unique, as much as possible.


(6) Power: preoccupation with 'strong' leadership, exaggerated assertions of toughness. It is strange that in an increasingly ‘civilised’ world, in which disputes are not settled with our swords or fists but with reason and law, many managers and employees – both male, female and otherwise – feel the need to play up to cave-era standards of machismo. I find this manifests in several ways: the ludicrously loud voice, wielded almost like a sledgehammer; the braggadocio and less-than-friendly banter; the insistent on unhealthy drinking culture on at corporate events. A friend of mine told me about a colleague of his. This colleague, during his qualification period to become a lawyer, made friends with a senior Judge. Despite their age difference, the two had a real affinity. The lawyer was very mature for a young guy in his twenties, the Judge in his late fifties, and the two spoke often of the ills of modern binge-culture, obsessive self-destructive party-going, and the societal damage caused by this behaviour. The Judge was something of a mentor. Needless to say, the lawyer-to-be was therefore very surprised when, on a corporate do, the Judge set a line of ten vodka shots before him and said: ‘If you want to get your training contract, you’re going to have to drink all of these.’ Even the Judge, though in the rational light of day he could offer critique, was unable to escape the authoritarian illusion that people must undergo ‘initiation’ rituals, and prove their ‘toughness’, in order to succeed in life.


(7) Cynical: frequent vilification of others. Always seeing the worst in people, always assuming that they are trying to ‘play the system’ or ‘get as much as they can out of the company’. A salesman I know was once called into an official ‘hearing’ because he had made a mistake on his overtime sheets. He had claimed an extra half-hour than he had actually worked, and his manager had spotted this error. In the meeting, he explained, in a measured fashion, that it was merely an error on his part, because he normally did work those hours, but this week he had left half an hour early for a chiropractor appointment. Effectively, he had filled in the sheet on auto-pilot. He apologised and said he would make up the hours the next week. The managers, however, did not accept this explanation. They continued to grill him, and say that he was trying to ‘extort’ the company and abuse their generosity. At this point, my friend, normally a mild-mannered and wonderfully humourous, a gentle guy, flew off the handle completely. ‘You’re seriously going to do all this for the sake of £5.00?’ he said. Even on overtime, he was being paid only £10.00 an hour. The meanness of this is beyond satire or parody, for the company he works for turns over something like 22 million a year. This kind of behaviour finds its roots in deep cynicism.


(8) Projectivity: the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses, so that the world is constantly interpreted as being a dangerous place. For some people, everything is ‘risk’ and nothing is ‘opportunity’. We all know those corporate environments where people spend more time covering their backs (getting everything triple-confirmed via email, for example, because to accept someone’s word on something is too dangerous) than actually working. This is also linked a deep repression, which is particularly prevalent in our society.


(9) 'Puritanical' prurience: exaggerated concern with sexual 'goings-on'. There is a tendency to treat working adults as children. The fact is, it really should not be the concern of upper management what the personal and private relations of two adults are; surely there are more direct concerns to be dealing with!

This is a list which is useful precisely to the degree to which we can measure ourselves along the nine axes. The point is: when we encounter these behaviours in force, few systems of support and explanation are going to help us deal with them. Better to move on if we can, or practise quiet resilience.


Next week, we discuss tools for personal development! Stay tuned to the series coming to a webpage near you!

The Difference Between Quiet and Loud Motivation


Welcome again to the third installment in this webseries on motivation. If you missed the first or second episode, don’t fret, everything here on the internet is eternal (so long as modernity endures, which, in the current state of things, is slightly precarious). This week, we’re going to be looking at the differences between ‘quiet’ and ‘loud’ motivation.


Is it me or is it just a faddish whim I am experiencing when I say I wish to have some quiet motivation? Apparently, we need motivation to get us out of our comfort zone - that area of un-achievement familiar to most people at some period of their life. In that sense, I think motivation is good. But when I talk about quiet motivation I am rebelling against that Animal Farm bleat of ‘comfort zone baaaad, risk-taking gooood’.


A while ago, some ten years or more, I saw a news item on National TV news about a couple whose big idea for marriage was getting hitched on a plane. That image has stuck with me, become a kind of emblem of our time. Yes, that's right, getting hitched on a plane. To be more precise, 3 small bi-planes: they trained so that the minister (who was selected on the basis of having no fear of heights) and couple could all stand on their respective planes a thousand feet up in the air where, using a comms system, they exchanged vows. Again, to be more specific, their standing involved being strapped on the outside of the plane. They were keen to do something different. It certainly was that - as I'm sure their guests observed as they roared overhead.


They were certainly motivated, in one sense, to do something different and highly risky. But performance includes three key ingredients: motivation - they had that; skill - yes, that too, as they didn't fall off; and direction - ah yes, here surely there is something wrong.


What could conceivably be the point of such a performance except to attract publicity - and for what? If it's balanced with the risk to life and limb, what purpose could it serve? Now, ten years on, social media is bigger than it ever was. The majority of young people claim they want to be YouTube stars when they grow up, a recent study revealed. More and more, we are becoming infatuated with the idea of spectacle, public display, and public image. Once, that was the province of kings and emperors – those with the wealth and means to flaunt their immense power – but now everyday people, too, wish to be seen to be doing ‘great’ or ‘daring’ things above all else. And that is the operative word: ‘seen’. Nevermind that so many young people, with the most vibrant and creative social media profiles, commit suicide because the reality of their lives is miserable. Increasingly, our perception of how people are – the seeming joy of their lives reflected in photo-shopped images, doctored videos, and pithy statements of world-affinity – is divorced from the reality.


Of course, the examples I am talking about are very extreme, but it does seem as if that is the way of it: people feeling under tremendous pressure to be different, not to conform, and to take enormous risks over pretty meaningless activities. The irony is that in striving not to conform they become part of the amalgamated flock, because this is the zeitgeist of the times.


The world of motivation is also full of this sort of stuff. Companies book ludicrously expensive trips for their employees, at the behest of motivational gurus, to walk on fire, bungee-jump, or trek up mountains. Whilst there is nothing wrong with these activities in and of themselves, there must be a reason for it. There must be ‘direction’. I am reminded of a story my son once told me. My son, in his spare time, is an avid tabletop wargamer. He collects miniatures, paints them, and sends them to battle on 4’ x 4’ boards lavishly decorated with miniature scenery. Contrary to the view that wargamers are isolated, anti-social people, the wargaming community is extremely active, some gamers meeting up two or three times a week to socialize, play games, and talk about their shared passion. How much healthier is this than the Friday-night drinking sessions that most people need to get through the week?


But this aside, a few years ago my son was talking to one of the staff members working at Games Workshop, who said that, as they had some new staff in, they had been sent on a paintballing day by management. You might think that this fits the bill of what I was discussing about earlier: something extreme without a real point. But, it is different, because of course paintballing ties in with the wargaming hobby the staff so love, and is a game where people must bond, and work together, in order to overcome an obstacle. ‘Team-building’ is the oft-dreaded phrase for it.


The Games Workshop staff-member, who my son idolized at the time, said that, unbeknownst to them, the paintballing marshals had pitted the ‘nerds’ against an assortment of navy, infantry, and paratroopers on their off-season. Expecting a massacre, it transpired that the Games Workshop staff had a few tricks up their sleeves. Years of devoting every spare moment to customizing armies, enacting military strategies, and visualizing warfare from a bird’s eye view, meant that they were much more tactically fluid than the infantry they were up against, who were used to following orders from higher-ups. The ‘nerds’ from Games Workshop beat them handily, to the utter astonishment of all parties involved. Imagine the joy, the sense of achievement and bonding, they experienced at the end of the day. That is ‘team building’ and ‘loud’ motivation done right.


The Games Workshop day worked because of the type of staff the company was dealing with, the type of company and products and experiences they were offering, and the fact that they were introducing a new member of staff to the team. It’s not for everyone. In fact, for many people, a day of paintballing, squatting in smelly, mud-slick trenches, would be their idea of hell. To pull off ‘loud’ motivation, you have to tap into the unique feeling and wants of your staff at a specific moment in time. ‘Quiet’ motivation, however, is far more universal, far less expensive, and doesn’t lead to a thirst for always getting bigger and bigger (once you take your employees on a trip, most will expect a bigger trip next year). The fact is that many of us are worked half to death, and the endless pressure to ‘keep up appearances’ and go to parties and social events in our personal life is exhausting enough, let alone socialising extensively with our work colleagues.


So, we must find ways to recharge our batteries, recuperate, re-align. For many people, the idea of relaxing is synonymous with watching TV (particularly with the advent of systems like Netflix, wonderful though they are). But the problem with this is screens in general – computer screens, monitors, TV screens, even Kindle screens – are very draining, and tend to numb us rather than charge us up. What’s the solution? Well, it might surprise you in its simplicity. My challenge to all these restless types who seem to want to go beyond their comfort zone is to do as Voltaire said: cultivate your own back garden. Now, that would really be stretching it a bit, wouldn't it? If that seems too staid, then I suggest a week away on a silent, religious retreat - vegetarian fare only. Time for meditation and quiet motivation to re-charge those exhausted adrenals.


Next week, we discuss psychopathology in motivation, and the dangers of an ‘authoritarian’ regime! Stay tuned to the series coming to a webpage near you!



The Language of Motivation



Hello, and welcome back to this continuing series on motivation. Last week, we looked at how to get motivated by going back to basics. This week, we are now going to be looking at how we can motivate others.


In 2008, Shankar Vedantam wrote a fascinating article for the Washington Post, in which he made the profound observation that rewards and punishments have replaced people’s intrinsic motivations. Correspondingly, the effect has been counterproductive: namely, people become less motivated as a result of these rewards and punishments.


I believe this observation is as true now as it was ten years ago. And although there has been an incremental paradigm shift from top-down, militaristic approaches of corporate governance (discussed in more detail in my book Mapping Motivation), to something more bottom-top, the widely used model is still that of control. In most cases, this control is leveraged via twofold financial means: you will be made redundant if you do not perform exactly as you are instructed (putting you in a financial strait) and you will be given a monetary bonus if you do (you will have cash to spare).


Coupled with this, there is also a commonly held belief that people are not ‘fired’ on the spot in the same way they used to be, or that employees are no longer at the mercy of a tyrannical manager’s whim in the ways they were in the early 20th Century. I would ask anyone who maintains this belief to spend a single day working in a service centre. The 1950s is alive and well in modern Britain. Businesses will always find a way, sad though that is, to control.


The other, more insidious, problem is that contrary to popular belief, not everyone is motivated by money. In fact, the majority of people are not motivated by money, strange as it may sound. Of course, we all like the idea of money, but in actuality it does not bring happiness, nor allows us to maintain it.


So, what does a bottom-top approach look like? To me, this is typified by managers working to discover the needs of employees and helping to meet them. Because this is beneficial not only to the employee but the manager and company as a whole. To lift an extract from Mapping Motivation: a primary aspect of any manager’s job is ensuring that they understand what their employees actually want and take the steps that guarantee they get it. So a second and far-reaching implication of this work is that the role of the manager is subtly changing: it is not just about content, content, content – ‘what are our goals, let’s do it’. It is now about process: how do we get the people on board, so they want to do it?”


So we have cultures that major on rewarding by money or by status, or alternatively gain acquiescence through fear of punishment. The basic and possibly unexamined assumption must be that anyone joining such an organisation or culture seeks precisely that carrot or stick option to maintain their motivation. The reality of course – in terms of outcomes – is very different.


The truth is: motivation is like a language – if you go to France the best way of getting on with the French is to speak their language. And they are not alone – the Spanish like Spanish, the Welsh like Welsh, and every culture prefers its own dialect. Alas, the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ English speakers are notorious for expecting every tribe on Earth to speak English, and perhaps this attitude infects their management styles too.


Therefore, the real question is: how do we discover what motivates each individual? One way would be to listen to the flatulent harpings on of managers who’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and will tell you unequivocally: they know their people. Interestingly, over 90% of these same managers fail to actually predict their own top three motivators! Equally, parents claim the same about their kids – we know what motivates our children! But you wouldn’t think so, would you, when you speak to those same employees and kids once they have left the influence zone?


Just as we have a language(s) to measure personality, we need a language and a metric to measure motivation, so that managers and parents need no longer guess. Such a language has been created – Motivational Maps®. But the thing is, motivation isn’t easy. For one thing, it changes over time, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. This means that unlike personality profiles, which tend to be constant, motivation needs to be monitored.


If before we said it was like a language, now we claim it is like a muscle: you exercise it and it can grow and change. Of course, exercise can be hard work – and we all want to avoid that. It is enough for most of us that we are focused on organisational goals; the idea that we have to discover and speak the appropriate motivational ‘language’ for all our colleagues is too exhausting to contemplate. We pay them enough, don’t we?


However, for those who wish to be really effective, as well as gifted communicators, this is the route to go down – the new route – the route that a new language of motivation opens up.


Next week, we discuss 'loud' versus 'quiet' motivation. Stay tuned for more blogs about how to get motivated, how to get back to basics, and how you can improve your work-life. A series coming to a webpage near you!