The Best Reward Conditions Resolve Pain

Man on rowing machineOne method to motivate someone, whether that someone is yourself or somebody else, is to offer a reward. There has been a lot of research that shows that extrinsic rewards, such as increases in pay, bonuses, or expensive gifts, have a limited ability to motivate somebody. But that doesn’t mean that rewards are entirely ineffective.

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How to not make your employees unhappy

Soul-crushing art: not actually a great way to keep people happy.
Soul-crushing art: not actually a great way to keep people happy.

It has become something of a cliché that people don’t leave their job, they leave their boss, and a recent article posted to Reddit corroborated this with a bit of research. I posted a comment stating that my own research supported this, insofar as I had found that management cannot make employees happy, but it can certainly contribute to unhappiness.

I received a lot of questions about the subject, so I thought I would write a brief blog post summarizing my thoughts. What it really comes down to, though, is that a really great boss can help keep someone motivated and happy who is already motivated and happy, but if someone is miserable, demotivated, and doesn’t want to be there, the greatest boss in the world isn’t going to make an unhappy person more happy.

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Why do you do the things you do?

Per my earlier post, it should be obvious that I’m thinking about politics and religion. I’m also thinking about motivation. I know why I do certain things, and I think I have a good handle on the motivations of a lot of the people I know, be they people from work, church, or other friends. People are complex in a lot of ways, but not all of life is enigmatic.

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Write For Yourself

As part of my current project, I’ve been asking people a lot of questions. My thought processes don’t work the same way as other people’s, so it’s helpful for me to ask people about their experiences, motivations, and goals. Knowing your audience is pretty important, and this is the most direct method I have.

There is a problem with asking questions though: you sometimes get answers you don’t want. On the magical carpet ride that is the Internet, there will be people who want to tear you down and tear you apart. I don’t know why. It doesn’t matter.

Screw them. The people who hate your ideas, want to knock you down and kick your breath out, and who are your most vociferous critics are probably also in the minority. Whether in politics or criticism, the loudest always seem to be from the smallest camp. Forget about them–they’re not worth it.

The majority, to be honest, are probably apathetic. They’re not interested and just don’t care. You might be able to swing some of them to your cause, and that’s not a bad goal, but they’re not with you yet.

And then there is the contingent of people who are with you. They get you. They’re intrigued, and maybe even interested. These are the ones who will support you, and whose thought processes do work like yours. Write for them, because writing for them is just like writing for yourself.

And if you make yourself happy, they’ll be happy too.

It’s OK to take a day (or two)

Twitter message from KC Green

It’s hard to take a break when you’ve got a gig on the side. Balancing a full-time job and writing, reviewing, and the tech stuff I can never find enough time for is pretty tough, and it leaves me feeling like I’m working all the time. The constant pressure to deliver is stressful.

Taking time off feels like I’m cheating people out of something. Like that’s one more day later that the book will be done, or one less worthwhile article for people to read. Every day that passes takes with it news that I haven’t read, or on which I haven’t commented; thoughts I haven’t shared; stories I haven’t told.

And somehow it’s worse that the time has been forced. I didn’t really do any work this weekend, but that R&R wasn’t scheduled or planned. I meant to be productive, but the motivation wasn’t there, and I lacked the energy to force myself. I rested, and felt guilty.

And then I saw this Twitter message. It wasn’t a flash of insight, or anything I hadn’t thought before, but it was reaffirming. Writing and doing all this extra stuff I’ve been doing has been fun, and it has provided me an outlet and some balance to my life. Yeah, I constantly wish I could do and accomplish more, but it’s not like I’m ruining people’s day by not getting something done. What happens if I’m a day late? Less free stuff on the ‘Net?

I’m not going to let this turn into an excuse for laziness, but hopefully I’ll sleep a bit easier tonight. I needed some unplanned R&R, and I had it whether I liked it or not. Time to relax–work can wait until tomorrow.

Twitter message by the illustrious KC Green.

What does it take to turn a man neutral?

Apparently, nothing.

Today’s been… kind of nothing. I don’t feel like it’s been weird. I have no motivation. I’m not lethargic, or energetic. Not happy or depressed. I haven’t felt hungry or thirsty or anything. I’ve played some games today, and looked at a couple of blank pages to maybe write something. I did write a blog entry, which immediately got misinterpreted (I think–maybe Nathan just disagrees). I couldn’t really get my brain to engage while writing, though. It’s like I’m apathetic. Neutral.

There’s nothing malicious about it. Nothing at all, really. I’m just existing.

What’s the deal? It’d be disconcerting if I was capable of feeling any strong emotion today.

I hope this lack of feeling is gone by tomorrow.

What do we seek when we write?

I’ve had a variety of internal debates, or considerations, or discussions going on recently. The uncertainty on its label is due largely to the lack of time I’ve had to really puzzle this all out, and these are topics it would really do me well to sit and talk about with someone artistic who engages in similar things that I do, and since that isn’t happening anytime soon I am left with (and subsequently can only deliver) ambiguity. If you made it past that sentence, thanks–the next paragraph won’t be so bad.

For years, I’ve wanted to be a writer, and only recently have I wanted to write. I envision this work as something I do alone, privately, toiling and drafting, throwing out and creating, and eventually handing to an editor before re-writing for a third or fourth time. When I finally feel something is completed ((Probably after a fifth go.)), I’ll put it out for the world to see, critique, and appreciate or detest. It’ll be a polished, finished project though, to the best of my abilities.

As I look at my lifestyle, my time, and the nature and style of my writing, I wonder if that’s the right method for me. There is certainly value in it, but I can’t help but look at webcomics. ((As is so often the case. I’m not quite sure what inspires my obsession with webcomics, but the webcomic artists I read are really inspiring to me.)) These are serialized, produced as the artist/writer goes along, and by and large they weren’t all that great at first. The art is usually rougher at the beginning than at the end, the writing improves over time, and most of the artists I read remark on how they have improved since they began, or since last year, or over the last few months.

I wonder if I need to get something perfectly polished before putting it out there. What if I were to write and post as I went? Never worry about going back and fixing, or about having everything done before I publish.

The question I reached was, “What am I looking for? What’s my motivation for writing?” Yeah, I do it because I enjoy it, but is there something else? I don’t do it for money, nor exactly for fame. Rather, what I’m seeking is community, and I don’t so much want the community of fans ((Though that’d be great and I really appreciate those people.)) who enjoy my work and tell me so, but rather the community of people who are all doing the same thing: producing because they enjoy it and sharing freely what they do.

If that’s my motivation, what would the best method be: a long crafting of a work to publish after the final polish, or serialization with the recognition that my work will be rough at first and gradually improve? I’m beginning to wonder if I should be doing the latter rather than the former, on which my attention has been for the last two years.

To put it another way, if what I want is more like what webcomic artists have rather than what an established and published traditional author has, then maybe I ought to be doing what the webcomics are.

I’m not sure about it, but I’ve been thinking about it an awful lot lately.

Why I Hate Special Music

We were leaving the Vineyard last Sunday and it hit me: there had been no “special music.” There had not, in fact, been special music any Sunday we’d been there, and I hadn’t missed it at all. Truth be told, it was wonderful.

“Special Music” is that awkward point in the church service where you aren’t actively worshiping or learning, and everyone sits down so they can hear someone or a small group of people (or the whole choir, whatever) sing for a while. It’s generally passive, unless your church is the sort that claps along, and it is not uncommon for this to come during the time of putting-money-int0-a-plate/basket.

Because I love worship, singing, and music (and though I use those three words consecutively, I do not mean to imply that they are synonymous), I always hate times of special music. It feels like I’ve been told to sit down and shut up, to stop worshiping, and to enjoy the concert they’re putting on.

I get that the person(s) involved in the special music aren’t generally that vainglorious, but I do question whether such times are edifying to the church body. Recognizing that we all worship somewhat differently, I think participatory worship is, at the least, the way to go. And though special music is often a bit of a stretch from our usual worship fare, I have never seen any reason that the congregation can’t be participating in it.

Why shouldn’t we be stretched in worship? Why shouldn’t we be pushed beyond the normal songs we sing or know? Why should participation be discouraged as we’re all told to sit down and listen? I’d rather stand, sing, stamp my feet and raise my hands, and worship the Lord.

After all, He’s the reason I’m here, not the music or the singer.

What are you saying?

I’m a big proponent of writing what you want to write. As a blogger who is somewhat obsessed with optimization and statistics, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of trying to write for the audience, putting out what I think people want to read, but I do what I can to quell this internal pressure and Ryan occasionally hits me with a reality check that sets me straight. Instead, I try to worry less about you all (sorry, but it’s true) and focus more on what interests me. If I’m not enjoying myself, what I write will be crap, so no one would want to read it anyways.

That being said, I can sometimes be a bit paradoxical when examining other people’s blogs. Though I whole-heartedly believe that people should write what they want, do what they enjoy, and generally not bother listening to blowhards like me, I look at some blogs and think, “Why?”

My confusion arises primarily out of cognitive dissonance, where I expect one thing but am seeing another, like if you found a parrot that wears an eye-patch yet speaks fluent and beautiful Italian. As a more on-topic example, I usually experience this confusion when I find a professional (in any field) who has started a blog. They generally dip their toes into social networking sites, getting a Facebook account and probably posting updates to Twitter. Since they’re a bona fide professional in their field, I expect them to love what they do and to express that, subsequently seeking out others who share their love. Instead, all of these messages they’re posting are usually just self-promotion as the professional monologues about whatever it is they’re doing and then says, “Look! Look at how awesome I am!”

The problem is that a lot of professionals in a wide variety of fields have approached social media and networking tools as just another type of hammer they can slip into their rusty tool belt, not realizing that this is something else entirely. Rather than joining a conversation about a subject they enjoy, these bloggers are usually just trying to get their numbers higher, secure more readers, and do whatever they can to claw their way to a bit of legitimacy. I feel like they view the web as just a digital newspaper: We post it, and people will read it because we posted it.

What I’m getting at is that while you should do what you want, maybe you should take a long, hard look at what you want and make sure what you’re doing meets those goals. If you’re a professional, someone who loves what they do, but all you do on your blog is talk about what you did… you’re not communicating that love to me. I’d think that you’d instead be more interested in connecting with other people who love what you do and having new conversations on the subject, collaborating on new discussions rather than continually referencing old work. When I see a professional who just points at their own site and isn’t carrying on a conversation, I tune them out. They aren’t communicating that love to me, and if they don’t love what they do (enough to invest in actually networking and conversing with others), then whatever they’re doing is probably crap and not worth my attention.

What are you saying with your Twitter messages, your Facebook status, your blog entries and YouTube videos? Are you creating new things to share, joining new conversations, and investing in what you love and other people? Or are you just saying, “Look! Look at me!”?

Signs that you’re doing it wrong:

  • You don’t reply to comments on your blog, Twitter, et. al.
  • You only update your blog every few months (which, while not necessarily bad, makes me wonder why you bother to have a blog… maybe a newsletter would work better?)
  • Conversely, you update multiple times a day/week with links to articles you’ve read (skimmed… or read the title of), but no analysis or original thought
  • You follow a billion people on Twitter and don’t read any of them
  • You spend a lot of time thinking, “What would people like to read?”
  • You don’t strive for original thought, instead electing to copy/paste or just repeat what others have already written (For instance, I might recommend that instead of, “New version of Ubuntu is out with these features: [copy/paste],” you shoot for, “I installed the new version of Ubuntu and liked X and Y but am not sure about Z because of [original thought].”)
  • You don’t read any other blogs

Please understand that this isn’t all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be. And there are always exceptions to these rules (such as popular and incredibly busy authors who don’t have time to reply to the thousands of messages they receive each day). But I think we can all remember a time when we looked at someone’s blog and just thought, “Why? What is the point of this?”

If the blogger is enjoying themselves, fine. I’d call that good. But if this is just a job for them and they’re just out to get their readership higher, chances are it’s not going to work. You’ve got to get the love first, and then the money will follow. If all you’re trying to do is get money though, you’ll never get any love, and your selfish motivation is going to come through in your interactions (or lack thereof) with people to the extent that they’ll just ignore you.