The puzzle of motivation

“If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. And when I want him to move again what must I do? I must kick him again… but that kind of management produces movement, not motivation.”

– Frederick Herzberg           


In many organisations there is unwritten rule- All people related problems should be solved by HR, reporting manager’s job is get work done…somehow, if in process employees get demoralized, refer them to HR. Biggest problem before HR is how to motivate them.


Daniel Pink has done lot of work in area of motivation. He feels that monetary incentives work very well if work is mechanical in nature ex. more no. of hours of work more money. But when it comes to managerial cognitive skills, it simply doesn’t work. So what motivates people?

What motivates them are three things- autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy is freedom to choose path to reach goal, get some time during official work hours to do what they wish to do ex. Google’s policy of allowing employees to spend 20% time to purpose new ideas.

Mastery is about urge to get better and better in something that matters to us. This urge is so high that people might do work free of cost ex. experts who share their knowledge writing for Wikipidea or giving software free of cost ex. Linux

Purpose is desire to do what we do, in the service of something, larger than ourselves. This comes from purpose/mission statement of organisation. People love to work for organisation if a purpose statement echoes their values. Ex. Bristol-Myers Squibb Company’s mission statement- To discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases, is bound to attract researchers.

Only catch here is employees should not see purpose as mere façade to earn profits.

A wonderful animation explaining these concepts is uploaded on youtube. You can click on link below.






Creativity, J.K.Rowling and How to succeed

Does J.K Rowling have very high IQ? Did she come from family of writers? Is she a gifted writer like Jane Austin or Charles Dickens? Answer to all is NO. Yet she is successful. Harry Potter series has sold millions of copies all over world.

During time of publishing first book of series J.K. Rowling was jobless, living on state welfare benefits, divorcee and had a dependent child. The first book ( whose draft was manually typed) was rejected by twelve publishing houses. Finally, publishing house Bloomsbury decided to publish it.

I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I still had a daughter who I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

– J. K. Rowling

Within five years of publishing first novel, J.K Rowling was a multi- millionaire.

What explains success of people like J.K Rowling?

High IQ does not explain it; most people with high IQ have convergent thinking i.e. they try to find one right answer for any problem. Creativity has more to do with divergent thinking i.e. ability to come up with many possible answers or ideas to question that has no single solution.

Success of J.K Rowling can be explained by theory of psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, which he calls as theory of investment.

As per theory creative people like Rowling decide to buy low and sell high in ideas, meaning that they generate and pursue ideas and concepts that seem too unusual or out-of-the mainstream ( orphan wizard and magic school). However, these are the ideas that have the potential for the most growth.

Even when an unorthodox or novel idea receives a great amount of resistance from the field, the creative individual pursues and persists, eventually persuading others of its merit, and sells the idea high. And then the creative individual moves on to the next unorthodox and novel idea.

According to Stenberg it has to do with intellectual skills of individual, there are three intellectual skills …

1. The synthetic ability to see problems in new ways and to escape the bounds of conventional thinking.

2. The analytic ability to recognize which of one’s ideas are worth pursuing and which are not.

3. The practical– contextual ability to know how to persuade others of—to sell other people on—the value of one’s ideas.

There are other factors which are also working like personality (ability to overcome obstacles), intrinsic motivation etc.

Creativity is domain specific, Rowling came up with unusual idea in area of child fiction, managed to sell it to publishers, and hence was a big success. But Rowling is unable to achieve same success in area of crime fiction, her ideas are not considered novel in area of crime fiction i.e. she is not buying low and selling high. That domain belongs to Stephen King, whose first novel Carrie too faced lot of rejections before it got published.


Another explanation comes from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. According to him creativity is intersection of domain, individual and gate keepers.

Rowling as an individual is creative; she got ideas about her characters during unusual events like waiting for train (idea of child wizard), her mother’s death (death of Potter’s parents) and her illness (idea of death eaters). As noted earlier, her ideas were novel in domain of child fiction. But these two – i.e. creative individual and right domain, are not sufficient for success.

Factor that makes difference is – “gate keepers”- these are domain experts, critics, marketing agencies, media editors who finally certify if idea is indeed novel in that domain and worth taking forward. So creative individual with novel idea, has to meet right gate keepers (in Rowling’s case publisher and 8 year old critic!) to achieve success.


All of us are creative. To succeed, spend time to think about some unheard, unusual idea in your domain (i.e. buy cheap) get in touch with right gate keepers ex. your boss’s boss, mentor, sponsor, CEO etc. and sell high i.e. convince them that your idea is indeed novel and worth pursuing.




Tips on how to kill creativity

“Of all the things managers can do to stimulate creativity, perhaps the most efficacious is the deceptively simple task of matching people with the right assignments. Managers can match people with jobs that play to their expertise and their skills in creative thinking, and ignite intrinsic motivation.”

–          Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile is expert in field of creativity and innovation. She feels that within every individual, creativity is a function of three components: expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation.

Expertise is knowledge – technical, procedural and intellectual.

Creative thinking skills determine how flexibly and imaginatively people approach problems. Do their solutions up-end the status quo? Do they persevere through dry spells?

An inner passion to solve the problem at hand leads to solutions far more creative than external rewards, such as money. This component – called intrinsic motivation – is the one that can most immediately be influenced by the work environment.


All manager has to do is marry creative individual with assignment that will utilise and enhance his creativity. This is not a difficult task to implement. But most of the organisations lack creativity.

How do managers  kill creativity so efficiently? A bad manager can do it “bade aram se” (easily)

Firstly, most managers are interested in getting job done, so they rarely try to see fit between individual’s expertise and requirements of job. They  simply assign available jobs to available employees to get urgent jobs done.

Secondly, creative employees need autonomy, not in deciding end but means. For this end result should be clearly defined. Many managers have no clarity about end result, they keep changing goals, also some don’t even give autonomy to subordinate to decide means to reach goal. Micromanagers are excellent in killing creativity.

Thirdly, managers have to give two necessary resources- time and money. Giving fake or impossibility tight deadlines results in burnout and kills creativity. They should not make employee run around and waste his time in getting resources allocated, budget sanctioned etc.


Fourthly, managers should look at the composition of project team. You can kill creativity by putting together people with similar ideas (no diversity) or those readily available. Such team can reach solution quickly, as no one wants to waste time on doing hard work to come up with creative ideas and implement it.

Fifthly, bad managers are always busy, they hardly have time to listen to new ideas, evaluate them and get them implemented. They are more interested in criticising ideas then listening to them. They ensure that motivation of creative people evaporates quickly.

Lastly, an open and transparent organisation culture encourages creativity. Organisational culture, which encourages, infighting, politicking, and gossip damage creativity because they take employee’s attention away from work.




How to handle Commoditization- Fight or Flight?

“Zara is possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world.”

– Daniel Piette , Fashion Director, Louis Vuitton

Fashion business was initially controlled by French and Italian haute couture houses like Georgio Armani, Versace, Prada etc. Their clients were upper class segment of society; slowly they started catering to upper middle class segment. Some fashion houses also stared catering to middle class.

Zara, a Spanish company, changed all the rules. Their superior production technologies and supply-chain management captured mass market and middle class segment. Their products were significantly lower than their competitors. With over 200 designers of its own, Zara identifies the trends of haute couture and ready-to-wear. It can then move these fashions to the middle market in about four weeks, compared to the six months taken by others.

Zara has commoditized the fashion industry. It becomes very difficult for competitors to match their offerings, if they lower their prices further, they will be ruined.

Management expert Richard D’Aveni calls this commodity trap, he believes that everything becomes commodity over a period of time. Commodity trap is where competitive edge of company gets eroded, so that it can no longer command premium pricing in market. The company then responds by further reducing the price and thereby making more loss and goes down further.

'It's a tough business model based on a low price point, but a shot of vodka really increases volume.'

There are two ways in which you can fight commoditization, either fight or flee. Winning the fight depends on the amount of resources you have available to throw at the battle relative to the low-end competitor. If you are hopelessly outmatched, then the choice may be to flee, as long as a sidestepping move is feasible.

Richard suggests three strategies if entire market is going down

  1. Side step– Some companies can shift their positions to sidestep the market power of the low-end discounter, by making its power irrelevant or even by avoiding it ex. some fashion firms have conceded the low and mid ends of the market and are moving upscale or away from the parts of the market where Zara has the most power. In this way, the haute couture and ready-to-wear companies hope to perform a neat sidestep by moving into other high-end areas to retain their exclusivity.


  1. Destroy the trap– The second way to beat a deterioration trap is to attack it. Undermining the market power of the low-end discounter can be achieved by eroding its power from below by offering even lower costs and benefits, through a reinvented value chain that generates profits at the same time. Alternatively, this can be achieved by redefining the way customers see price. Ex. European mass retailer H&M is trying to neutralize Zara’s model of designer-less fast fashion imitations by offering equally low-priced products while using stars such as Madonna and guest designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, and Roberto Cavalli to raise H&M’s image.


  1. Turn trap into your advantage– In this strategy, companies work to confine the power of the discounter to a limited part of the market. Ex. H&M is also beginning to confine Zara to its customer niche by introducing a series of specialized stores targeting different segments, such as children’s, accessories, and lingerie, to surround Zara.


Commoditization is not confined just to retail industry; it is applicable to any industry including HR consultancy business. How different is Mercer from Hewitt, Towers or Hays? What happens if one of them suddenly decides to drop price or some new player emerges which provides such services at very low prices?

Organisational Politics and Career Growth

Will you work for organisation that encourages politics? Will you work for a boss encourages politics? Do you encourage politics? Do you like subordinates who play politics?

I am sure answer will be NO. Organisational politics is a dirty word, nobody wants to be associated with it, but at the same time it is fact that those who reached top are good in politics.

David McClelland and Jeffery Pfeffer have done considerable work in area of organisational politics.

Jeffery tries to trace reason for organisational politics becoming a dirty word.

Firstly, most of the literature on leadership is based on views and experiences of great CEOs, who gloss over the power plays they used to get to the top. Instead teaching on leadership is filled with prescriptions about following your inner compass, being truthful, letting your feelings show, being modest, and not behaving in bullying or abusive ways— in short, prescriptions that reflect how people wish those in positions of power behaved.

There is no doubt that the world would be a much better place if people were always authentic, modest, truthful, and concerned about others, instead of simply pursuing their own aims. But fact is CEOs did not behave in that way. They never hesitated to indulge in power play in their rise to top.


Secondly, people believe in what psychologist Melvin Lerner calls “Just world hypothesis”- assumption that a person’s actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, i.e. all noble actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished.

So people believe if they do a good job and behave appropriately (i.e. stay away from politics), things will take care of themselves. On other hand inappropriate behaviour i.e. self-promotion or pushing the envelope, may be successful at the moment, but in the end it will bring people down.

But world doesn’t go strictly by just world hypothesis.

Jeffery feels that politics/power play, if managed well, can help you in career progression, because power play is must for getting things done.

Any new strategy worth implementing has some controversy surrounding it and someone with a counter agenda fighting it. To get that strategy implemented, you need power.

Power gives you access to money, network and information which can be used to attract resources necessary for project implementation. You can use this to push all the obstacles and sell your strategy.

“You need two things to succeed: substantive business knowledge, so you know what to do, and organizational or political skills, so you can get it done.”

–          Zia Yusuf, CEO, Streetline Inc.

David McClelland in his theory of motivation says managers fall into three motivational groups.

Those in the first, affiliative managers need to be liked more than they need to get things done. Their decisions are aimed at increasing their own popularity rather than promoting the goals of the organization.

Managers motivated by the need to achieve—the second group—aren’t worried about what people think of them. They focus on setting goals and reaching them, but they put their own achievement and recognition first.

Those in the third group are interested above all in power. Recognizing that you get things done inside organizations only if you can influence the people around you, they focus on building power through influence rather than through their own individual achievement.

People in this third group are the most effective, and their direct reports have a greater sense of responsibility, see organizational goals more clearly, and exhibit more team spirit.


Transient advantage, confirmation bias and Innovation

“If you think of competitive advantage as something that is transient, you’ll organize your company in a very different way. You’re going to be very careful about having your organizational system settle down too much, because too much stability can be dangerous.”

–          Rita McGarth

Rita McGarth is expert in area of strategy. She is of opinion that days of strategy as a sustainable competitive advantage – you find opportunity, you build barriers around it (to prevent competition from copying it) and then you enjoy benefits for a long period of time, are over.

Due to globalisation, IT etc. competitive advantages are transient and not sustainable. Now organisation has to seize opportunities, exploit them and then move quickly when they have exhausted the opportunity.


A competitive advantage begins with a launch process, in which the organization identifies an opportunity and mobilizes resources to capitalize on it. In the next phase, ramp up, the business idea is brought to scale. Then begins a period of exploitation, in which it captures profits and share, and forces competitors to react. The very success of the initiative spawns competition, eroding the advantage.

So the firm has to reconfigure what it’s doing to keep the advantage fresh. For reconfigurations, a firm needs people who aren’t afraid to radically rethink business models or resources.

Tata DoCoMo came up with an innovative idea of introducing “one paise per one second plan”; at that time the lowest time frame to calculate phone tariffs was one minute. This meant that users paid for the full minute even if they spoke for only five seconds. While this was a profitable proposition for operators, users were disadvantage.


Within five months of the launch Tata DoCoMo attracted 10 million customers. Three-fourths of them came from other operators. But period of exploitation was over very soon as all operators including market leaders Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular launched per-second plans. Since advantage was transient, Tata DoCoMo should have move to next disruptive idea, but that did not happen.

Erosion of advantage began, Tata DoCoMo could not benefit for long, the company kept making losses and failed to become a serious challenger to market leaders Bharti and Vodafone.

If a company has been very successful for a long time, then employees don’t feel the urgency to innovate. But due to this shift to transient advantage, innovation becomes more imperative, which means that organizations really do need to make it a routine capability, rather than pursue it in fits and starts.

There is also need to change mind-set of leaders. Most of them suffer from confirmation bias, where people, usually unconsciously, seek out information that confirms what they believe to be true (though it may not be true) and ignore information which is contradictory to their beliefs.

Leaders now have to give up mind-set of sustainable era i.e. look for evidences which confirm their belief that “all is well”. They are reluctant to hear bad news, and by the time they realise gravity of bad news, it is too late. Instead they should actively fight against this bias and deliberately seek information that challenges assumptions.

Leaders need to create a culture that encourages people to seek out and share evidence that things are changing, that there may be trouble ahead—even when things seem to be going well.

drug cartoon[1]

Wisdom of crowd & crowdsourcing performance appraisal

Francis Galton, a psychologist and statistician, once visited a fair. At one stall there was contest on guessing weight of ox, which was slaughtered and dressed. Person who would correctly guess the weight got prize.

Francis made everyone write their guess on piece of paper, he got estimate from 800 people, and did statistical analysis of data. The crowd at a fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged – the average was closer to the ox’s true butchered weight than the estimates of most crowd members, and also closer than any of the separate estimates made by cattle experts.


This example inspired American journalist James Surowiecki to write book called “The wisdom of crowds”.

The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. A large group’s aggregated answers to questions are generally found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group.

For correct estimation, each member of crowd should have independent information and their opinion should not be influenced by those around them.

Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.”

― James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

But if the members of the crowd were too conscious of the opinions of others and began to emulate each other and conform rather than think differently, then it will result in failure of crowd’s wisdom, ex. people investing in stock market, who blindly imitate others end up losing money.


Eric Mosley decided to apply this concept to performance appraisal system. He feels that employees, as a group, are smarter than any single manager. They see what managers do not. And when they are inspired to recognize, those observations can play a significant and positive role in performance management.

Instead of a one-time annual evaluation of performance, managers and employees receive collective feedback from everyone across their company. It’s all achieved through crowdsourcing, and it generates more accurate, actionable results than traditional methods.

Purpose is not to replace reporting manager’s opinion, instead manager can use this additional information for better decision making.

“We’re finding that none of us is as smart as all of us. Crowdsourcing, with its multiplicity of viewpoints, is revolutionizing various aspects of business and commerce—and there’s no reason it can’t revolutionize the processes for employee performance evaluations and employee rewards…Employees who are hidden gems and hidden influencers can be discovered through the data that only the crowd can provide.”

–          Eric Mosley