Earning not winning

Photo: Dave Bullock (eecue)

I am a regular reader of the Incentive Intelligence blog and enjoy it very much. Today, I read a really interesting post about the negative use of the word “but” titled: Incentives AND Recognition – Forbes Article AND Some Thoughts. You should read it. I was distracted by one sentence in the post, representing an idea Paul writes about in his blog a lot:

Incentive programs are NOT contests and awards are earned NOT won

The last part of the sentence is so important and so powerful I get blown away by it every time I read it. Some might say this only semantics. But semantics have power. I wrote this in my e-book:

In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success“, Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, describes a study she and her colleagues conducted with adolescences. They gave a few hundred students a non verbal IQ test. When the students finished the test, they praised them for their results. Some students were praised for their ability: “Wow, that is a really good score, you must be really smart“. Other students were praised for their effort: “Wow, that is a really good score, you must have worked really hard“. Both groups had equal scores to begin with, but after the praise the groups began to differ.

Students who were praised for their ability were not inclined to taking on new tasks. They did not want to expose their flaws. They wanted to keep their smart appearances. In contrast, the group that was praised for their effort showed a different behavior, they actually asked for new challenging tasks to handle!

After interviewing the groups, the researchers gave a new test, much harder this time. The ability group reported feelings of failure. Most of them, when asked to describe their feelings of failure, said: “We are not so smart after all”. More importantly, the ability group, who reported enjoyment of the first test, told the researchers they did not enjoy the second one. In contrast to the ability group’s reaction to the second difficult test, the effort group did not see their lesser results at the second test as failure. When confronted with their failure in the second test they mostly said: “we will just need to put in more effort in order to succeed”. More importantly, they reported enjoyment from both tests. Even the one they failed!

Later, both groups were given an easy test again. The ability group performed worse than it did in the first test. They lost their faith in their ability. The effort group actually performed better than it had done in the first test. They used the harder test to enhance their skill. Not only did they enjoy the ride, in the long run, it improved their outputs.

We need to acknowledge, everyday, the results are not a windfall. They do not just happen. They come out of hard work. And it is the hard work that we want to incentivize. Not every type of hard work of course, but hard work that leads, in the long term, to desired results.

A few days ago I wrote about the difference between decisions and outcomes. And while I believe in outcome management I am also a big believer in the idea of processes. Not standardized processes that confine people in bureaucratic prisons. Individualized processes that are the product of experience, thinking and the understanding of our own uniqueness. And the only way to do that is focus on the effort and the work we put in the created the desired results.

Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. And the effort is the important part of gaining it. As usual, my epic fantasy readings give me another perspective. In Best Served Cold Joe Abercrombie writes:

…It was what you gave out that made a man, not what you got back…


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