Cat Herding Drivers

Cat herding (managing software developers & engineers) is difficult enough. It certainly doesn’t help that your cats... er... people become demotivated when offered things like large cash bonuses. Why on earth would a large bonus not motivate people?

This is what I wanted to learn more about and this is why I picked up Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink.

I discovered this book after attending a Calgary Agile Methods User Group seminar by Jonathan Rasmusson. His seminar was entitled The Surprising Science Behind Agile Leadership – Why We Do What We Do and you can find the slides at the link.

Plenty of scientific research has been done on what drives us to do what we do. The basic biological human drivers include hunger, thirst and sex. Responding to rewards and punishments in our environment is a second long understood drive we all have. The surprise comes from the third drive which some call “intrinsic motivation” which causes us to behave rather irrationally at times.

What can happen when the second drive is leveraged (a large cash bonus) and the third drive ignored (no autonomy) is that people can become severely demotivated. This intrinsic motivation is so strong that it can even give you more of what you don’t want: unethical behaviour, addictions and short-term thinking.

The third drive is not universally applicable which is likely why we don’t understand it as well as the other drives. You need a situation in which people are comfortable (paid enough) and use their brains a lot (knowledge worker). This pretty much describes life in many software development organizations although some will argue they are never paid “enough” of course. The point is that the intrinsic motivation dominates when the other needs are already satisfied. And yes, you want this intrinsic motivation to be satisfied.

Working crazy hours for nothing, coming up with fantastic solutions, higher quality, contagious enthusiasm, incredible dedication and smiles all around. This is what you get for free with satisfied intrinsic motivation. All the things the large cash bonus was hoping for.

Drive explores how to enable this elusive third drive and avoid the negative behaviours you get with disincentives. The trick is knowing when intrinsic motivation is the dominant factor in any situation. You don’t hope for intrinsic motivation to kick in at the local burger joint for example--wrong venue.

I found the book is very approachable so I refer anybody interested in this topic to give it a quick read and make up their own minds. It is rather short and includes some fluff at the end to pad it out. The one thing I really didn’t like about the book is the operating system analogy like Motivation 2.0 and how it needed an upgrade to Motivation 3.0. Being a software guy, the operating system analogy was annoying but tolerable.