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RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

The RSA · Youtube · 361 HN points · 87 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention The RSA's video "RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us".
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This lively RSA Animate, adapted from Dan Pink's talk at the RSA, illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace.

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This audio has been edited from the original event by Becca Pyne. Series produced by Abi Stephenson, RSA.

Animation by Cognitive Media. Andrew Park, the mastermind behind the Animate series and everyone's favourite hairy hand, discusses their appeal and success in his blog post, 'Talk to the hand':
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There’s a video that I really like, talking about the same research that knowledge based jobs, bonuses decrease performance.
Punished by rewards is an interesting book on the same lines.

If you don't want companies using your tech, just use (A)GPL or anything from Richard Stallman.

But there are some of us who believe in Open Source[1] and giving value to the world, including companies. So please stop bullying us into being a victim culture, we're not.

Besides, scientific research over the decades has shown that Open Source produces valuable work specifically because it is unpaid creative work, and when pay is introduced, quality drops.

Here's a good summary video of the studies:

[1] Disclosure: I work on Open Source full time now because 8M people use my tech ( ), but I do not charge for it and previously had to do it in my spare time (it is only its success that has lead to me being able to work on it full time - not the other way around).

That's amazing. How do you fund it without charging for it?
Sweat & tears with side gigs until the OSS became popular enough that I then tried raising VC money. Raising money was extremely hard, but it worked after years of trying.

I then moved out of state to somewhere insanely cheap, so I could survive & build for years more. Now we're finally doing well enough that I've moved to SF to hopefully make enough connections for the next stage!

Do you have any OSS projects yourself? :)

I'm a maintainer of a 10K+ starred project with 1M+ monthly downloads and I know Feross personally.

I do not agree or support this movement.

Don't do Open Source if you can't afford it.

It is as simple as that.

Framing it as exploitation is misses the point of collaboration.

It has never been about us, it's been about giving value to the world.

We can't play the victim card. Nobody wants a whining Batman or Spiderman.

So what is Open Source about?

Here's an excellent talk on the psychology behind it:

> We can't play the victim card. Nobody wants a whining Batman or Spiderman.

I don't know my own opinion on this topic, but framing any form of work in terms of a selfless, uncomplaining heroism seems like ideal advertising copy for corporate exploitation. I know what you're saying which is effectively "only wear the cape if you can fly"...but the subtext could be interpreted as "hey kids be a superhero and by the way superheroes never feel pain or don't be one of those".

I'm surprised nobody else has said this as well. If you want to get paid for your time or your projects then stop giving them away for free? Nobody is under any obligation to work on open source so it's peculiar that someone who chooses to do so would then complain afterwards...just stop working on it...
> Nobody is under any obligation to work on open source so it's peculiar that someone who chooses to do so would then complain afterwards..

Except more and more employers judge job candidates per their open source projects and contributions. It can create a positive feedback loop, where only people who can afford to work on open source projects do so, and thus get better offers in the future. While people who can't afford it will never be able to break through recruitment because of a mostly empty github profile.

The author of this talk actually specifically mentions the phenomenon of software engineers going home and working on more software, for free. People are motivated, and the reason why makes sense.
Sep 15, 2018 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by 11thEarlOfMar
While it is possible that this was 'sanctioned' activity by OpenTable, I think it is more likely the result of sales/bonus targets. There is plenty of documentation on why targets/bonuses can lead to unintended consequences and more often than not lead to cheating/gaming the system to achieve the targets rather than actually delivering the outcome intended.

Daniel Pink has a good talk about what motives people

I would argue that this sort of thing is the intended outcome.

This is how smart modern businesses break the law. They don’t tell you to do it. They’ll probably be quite explicit that you are never supposed to break the law and that the company is serious about this. At the same time, they’ll give you incentives and requirements that you cannot meet legally. Then they’ll let you figure it out on your own. If SHTF, they’ll be able to tell investigators, with all honesty and sincerity, that you did this on your own and there was never any approval from management.

A really common example is working off the clock. This is super illegal and they’ll tell you never ever under any circumstances to do it. Then they’ll give you X hours and 2X work for the week and let you figure it out for yourself.

Yes, this argument certainly doesn't absolve OpenTable of any wrongdoing. Especially in sales it should be fairly obvious what the outcome of these ridiculous targets will be.

But sometimes it can be more subtle. For example, a delivery driver may be targetted to make 10 deliveries an hour. However what happens when they are short of their target. They cheat. Suddenly people aren't home. They hit their target, but now the company has to reattempt delivery which increases their overall costs. But many companies, instead of looking at what they are really trying to achieve, will just add more rules (only successful deliveries count) which will just lead to more sophisticated cheating.

In Mountain View, I’ve seen the USPS fake attempted delivery on packages at least 50% of the time, to a business that’s open from 7am to 7pm. I’ve heard this isn’t the driver so much as the postmaster gaming their stats from the office, so they don’t fall below SLAs with Amazon packages for instance.

Not sure the reason exactly, but incredibly aggravating to get an email saying they attempted and business was closed when you’ve been sitting there with the door open all day.

I run a fulfillment center and we recently acquired a client’s business:

For now I’m running support for that myself. My most common email is explaining early delivery notifications to confused customers. I’ve taken to just emailing this link w a quick one-line explanation:

The amount of time wasted by this one specific ‘cheat’ is astronomical.

> I don't understand the high horse.

> Accept the offer, rake in the cash, move on.

The closing part of this video sums it up perhaps:

It’s for a fairly old talk called “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”. In short, for work requiring cognitive skills, best performers don’t really get motivated by financial incentives (unless they have money troubles). Watch from the beginning for all that background and references.

FWIW I share OP’s feelings. I get really easily demotivated, I can’t bring myself to work on something uninteresting, let alone something I have a bad feeling about.

Dec 22, 2017 · 1 points, 1 comments · submitted by cellis
I came across this after reading an ESPN article about NFL bonuses: ( ), and thinking "Why can't engineers get paid like this?" ( e.g., why don't I get a $100k bonus for delivering 500 pivotal points? ). That question lead to googling for "Software engineer bonuses" and that lead to, which lead me to this video. Discuss.
Yes, that's a really nice video. Here is the link: (Unfortunately, the highest resolution supported is 240p. Anyone has a link to a higher resolution video?)
> What else would they be motivated by?

The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us:

Based on studies done at MIT and other universities, higher pay and bonuses resulted in better performance ONLY if the task consisted of basic, mechanical skills. It worked for problems with a defined set of steps and a single answer. If the task involved cognitive skills, decision-making, creativity, or higher-order thinking, higher pay resulted in lower performance. As a supervisor, you should pay employees enough that they are not focused on meeting basic needs and feel that they are being paid fairly. If you don’t pay people enough, they won’t be motivated. Pink suggests that you should pay enough “to take the issue of money off the table.”

To motivate employees who work beyond basic tasks, give them these three factors to increase performance and satisfaction:

Autonomy — Our desire to be self directed. It increases engagement over compliance.

Mastery — The urge to get better skills.

Purpose — The desire to do something that has meaning and is important. Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees.

Yeah yeah, I'm familiar with the study, but it doesn't account for how we employees are generally quite aware of the value of our skill set. Sure, it may take us a bit to recognize the increase, but typically no more than a few months. And then the sense that we're compensated below our value will eat at us, even in the presence of all those things. It's not about the dollar amount, it's about the disparity between market value and compensation rate. The greater that dissonance the greater the motivation to leave. It doesn't feel like respect when an employer pays you below what you feel you're worth.
More money may not motivate you to work harder/faster, but reasonable compensation will decrease your motivation to find a new job.

I'm not really sure how this often quoted study relates to retention since that is outside the scope of the study.

Bottom line: Taylorism only works well when applied to work that can be throughly quantified into time and motion studies. When you try to apply it to disciplines that require reflection and analysis or are by definition speculative in nature (can't think of anything more speculative than research or learning new things about the world that is academia), it's a catastrophe.

Video: The surprising truth about what motivates us

My understanding is there is actual behavioral research on some of these kind of claims. An entertaining video (which does note that money is not completely irrelevant. After certain point it is just not that important motivating factor)

> I worked in finance sales for about 3 years. Bonuses are fun

I think this should be obligatory link in all bonus related discussions:

Why should we care about a disincentive to work more? It's like that trope about welfare recipients all being drug addicts. Or that taxing the rich will make them not want to work.

What motivates people to work is MASTERY, AUTONOMY and PURPOSE. This is very different from the profit motive, and is why people contribute to open source and science.

And anyway, why in the 21st century does everyone need to work? Why should wages be the primary mechanism by which living wages trickle down to the plebes?

McDonalds will soon cut its workforce. So will Uber. Thanks to automation.

If you are jealous that someone somewhere is receiving free stuff, realize how much free stuff you have just by being alive in the 21st century!

If you are upset that you'd be taxed for the free stuff -- then make sure that we develop systems to tax machines. Yes you heard me, start taxing the machines.

If people were more free to choose what to do with their time, they'd probably spend more time with their family and study more and contribute more knowledge to society. Instead of working a dead-end job at McDonalds.

If you want to read more about the economics of this, I wrote an article:

Happiness is feeling useful/having purpose (autonomy, mastery, purpose) [1], meeting your basic needs (~$75K/year research shows [2]), and spending time with friends and loved ones [3] [4].





Good stuff, but 75k seems awfully low when houses cost 2MM.
Doesn't apply to some real estate locale outliers.
Is there a difference between whether that income (which obviously would need to be adjusted for different areas) comes from a single job you can't afford to quit vs say, passive investment income where you don't feel pressure to stay with a bad boss or something else?

Those seem like big distinctions.

Aug 17, 2016 · 3 points, 1 comments · submitted by kiyanwang
I've never been motivated by money and I've been lucky to have had intellectually rewarding jobs for most of my career.

I get paid enough not to have to worry about money for the most part (although I still can't afford a house, but then who can).

My motivation comes from curiosity, difficult problems, or feeling that other people need my work.

One thing that completely shuts-down my motivation is imposed competition. I have absolutely no interest in doing a task to beat someone else or get there first if those motivators are imposed from without. However, sometimes I am motivated from within to make something a competition, I just don't want the competition to be mandatory.

Provide an environment that give workers autonomy, mastery, and purpose (see Daniel Pink's work title Drive You provide those three things and a sane group of people, happiness will follow.
Relevant: - "RSA Animate: Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us"

Short version: internal motivation is much stronger than external motivation.

What I'm wondering about is what motivates extremely smart people to work on social media apps and iGadgets, when they know that most people care much more about: food, health, a fair economy, energy, and safety. Why are these smart people not working in fundamental physics, or medicine, or why aren't they thinking up new models for the economy?
Social media apps and iGadgets are more profitable. It's almost impossible to get paid for thinking up new models for the economy.
I suspect that autonomy plays an important role here.

For writing apps, you need only your computer. You don't have to interact with other people a lot.

For medicine, fundamental physics, you need a huge amount of resources, and you need to cooperate with lots of people.

It seems that smart people prefer complete independence.

Spot on.

The problem is being able to influence things in a creative way.

I'd rather be the captain of my small pirate ship than a cog in giant battleship. But I'm in my mid 30s now, maybe that will change when I get to 40.

Another option: caption of your own pirate ship, inside a giant battleship.
I am in my early 40s, and I thought 40s would be different as I will have less home pressures, and more time to myself. Also, I will be mature to take on challenges.

Doesn't work that way. Please start today.. don't hope for a things changing in 40s as it will come to your very very fast.

The ~10 minute RSA Animate video for "Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us" is terrific:

Aside from all the other stuff that people are pointing out, the 'human nature' and motivation argument is a bit stale at this point. We existed in communal hunter-gatherer societies for millennia before our current system emerged, and tons of research has shown that money is a cosnsitently bad motivator for creative productivity. People like pretty pictures so here's an old RSA animate on the issue:

There are shortcomings with ideas like basic income, but I don't think the ones you've mentioned are particularly valid.

Typically movie stars negotiate a tiny % of gross revenue in their contract. They used to negotiate for % of profit, but studios got very good at fiddling with the numbers for the film until a successful movie had nearly no profit.

I don't see why that can't be done for software engineers. That is essentially dividends though, and it's obvious why growth companies don't want to do that. But it's also not clear that stock options have the intended motivating effect (it's not even clear that increases in salary or some kind of profit sharing would have the intended effect either[1])

I think it's clear that stock options are sub-optimal for the intended purpose, but it's not obvious to me how to fix that.



RSA Animate: The surprising truth about what motivates us

This is the RSA Animate of Dan Pink's lecture on motivation. He suggests there is a division between physical and mental tasks. This was tested with several experiments involving different reward schemes.

    As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they
    would be expected. The higher the pay, the better the performance.
    Once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward
    led to poorer performance.


The idea that penalties trump rewards probably explains why I've always liked roguelike games (and Touhou-style shooters). I've been playing way too much Nuclear Throne recently (and Risk Of Rain). As a roguelite, it strongly embraces the idea of "permadeath". Robotron/SmashTV style extra-fast action, that where you can never make a mistake (a single hit can end the game).

Also, Nuclear Throne demonstrates an important implementation detail in something that uses such a strong punishment-based motivator: never put anything in the way of the player restarting after their mistakes. In NT, once the death animation has played (only a few frames, at most 200-300ms), you can hit "R" to restart the game at the first level. No delay whatsoever. Sure, the penalty is harsh, but you can try to overcome that failure immediately.

This explains it:

Open source is a gift economy, like science without patents!

I'm not advocating or rejecting the Amazon boycott, simply here to challenge the way you think: while everything you said is logical you can't simply treat people like trash, it doesn't matter if they are white collar, gold collar or can't-afford-a-collar.

A situation that shares many similarities is: "it is that woman's fault that she does not leave her abusive husband." That is laying blame on the person who was abused (not matter their background) instead of the person dealing out the injustice.

Imagine that Bezos had not disowned this behavior: more and more would follow suit and eventually you'd be hard-pressed to find a place where this isn't the norm. For example: stack ranking had to start somewhere. Now you'll find it at many places and it's no longer as simple as "just go work somewhere else." If you've acquired a lifestyle where you depend on a corporate job with a cushy salary, what are you going to do?

Don't forget that people can (and do) undervalue themselves. Maybe they don't believe that they could find another job: possibly because their manager has completely destroyed their self-worth.

Finally, it's just fucking stupid. It's actually counter-productive. It's been shown over and over again (one example[1]) that the way you get better results out of humans is to treat them humanely and, unbelievably, make them want to work for you instead of work for you out of fear. Practices like this, stack ranking, etc. all originate out of the industrial age when machines were the primary concern - you can't manage humans like machines: they will revolt (consciously or subconsciously).


> A situation that shares many similarities is: "it is that woman's fault that she does not leave her abusive husband."

oh please. this isn't reddit, HN is full of grown adults with jobs and relationships that live in the real world.

women have full agency in 2015 and to claim they don't is so insulting and sexist i don't even know where to begin.

same with white collar professionals. i don't condone what amazon does but it's your own damn fault if you decide to stay, and same with individuals MALE OR FEMALE in abusive relationships, and believe you me there are plenty of males in horrendous relationships - physically, mentally, and emotionally abused by their wives or girlfriends.

> this isn't reddit

Exactly. Only reddit would draw conclusions from the metaphorical device in an analogy.

Even if you haven't acquired a lifestyle. It's not like things get better when management adopts some new terrible practice for non-salaried employees. By and large they live day to day stack-ranking all sorts of far more abusive BS.
Some of these talks (not just TED) are incredibly inspiring. I particularly love the ones that were turned into RSA Animate.

"That they can profit in this way provides an important incentive - aside from the intrinsic value of the productive activity itself - for them to engage in socially useful productive activity."

That's just it. This is a business model built on threat of violence and coersion that provides additional incentives over and beyond what content creators would get without it. Just because a business model is able to collect money - extortion, say, or confidence games - does not mean the model itself is ethical. The argument that we need to keep the existing incentives in place is much like arguments made by any other entrenched interests who are getting the benefit of some societal system or government program and want to continue it because - to hear them tell it - the repeal would make the sky fall.

Even if it leads to ever increasing absurdity like the USA endlessly extending the age of copyright to prevent works from falling into public domain, or the software patent race and sunk costs in buying porfolios, leading to speculative legal fishing for money.

The history of SCIENCE, open source software, and freely available wiki sites show that people will contribute content and create great and useful collaborative works even in the absence of monetary compensation and business models that coerce people into paying. In fact, even the question of ego / attribution seems to be answered - people don't have to get "top billing" in a movie or be listed as a book's primary author in order to contribute. And the result is often better than a commercial enterprise, for a variety of reasons. It evolves with time, is accessible from more environments, and leads to more wealth creation in the long run around it. The internet protocol suite, linux, webkit, wikipedia, publicly accessible science, all of it.

The human motivations are very well explained here:

It is somewhat ironic that anarcho capitalists decry government for using force and then ask for more of it to protect capitalism and property, in areas where a naturally occuring gift economy without coersion and which confers basic freedoms on all users has been shown to do better. This irony can be best seen in the way every anarcho capitalist switches from deontological arguments (what is moral in and of itself) that they use to criticize systems of government, to consequentialist (what the outcomes would be) as soon as the time comes to justify the use of force to maintain property and incentives of capitalism for something. "But think of all the great movies that wouldn't have been made because no one would have any incentive." Yeah, and think of all the crimes that would have been committed if no one would have government.

You reminded me of a fantastic video about positive and negative motivation, especially with how they relate to blue-collar vs white-collar work:

Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us (

I'd argue it's not.

People that are paid most to do a job that isn't repetitive manual labor have worst performance scores, time and time again.

So unless CEOs are paid to manually bolt things or throws ball into a hoop, they probably aren't doing well because, in part, they are given money. Money introduces fear (i.e. fear that you won't make enough money or lose your position with lots of money) and that leads to tunnel vision.

People give more performance if you give them more autonomy, mastery and purpose.

I also immediately though of that talk. It makes sense that it also applies to CEOs.
I would argue the opposite with so much money on at your finger tips you are more prone to bad decisions because you are not invested enough in the outcome.

You ear more in a year than you can spend in a life time what are the chances of you looking a every deal very attentively?

You do the absolute minimum to maintain your position but you're not driven enough to put more effort into it.

Reminds me of this video, "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us."
Is this what you were looking for? [1] When looking at a financial reward as a motive for great work, a study found this works great for work that is very monotonous/tedious, and horrible for work that requires a lot of thinking. In fact, when offered larger and larger rewards based on better work for the more mentally strenuous work, the quality of work seemed to go down.


For many of us, it comes down to -- as Dan Pink describes: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Very few companies are good at enabling even ONE of these, let alone all three. Startups are among the worst for fostering this kind of motivation.

Without a well-balanced three-legged stool of motivation, a few years is all you are going to be content. Or, like many of us, you will gradually learn to lower your expectations, eventually settling - tolerating lesser situations - for a longer time.

The previous manager was very good at "leading through inspiration". He made people feel good about themselves, feel like they were learning, and feel like they were making a difference both for their corner of the world and the whole organization.

The new manager was good at keeping track of things and micromanaging. But the most inspiring line she could come up with was, "You still have a job." (I wish I was kidding.) She also had an unfortunate habit of lying badly and often, with a resulting destruction of trust. But that aspect I'm too bitter about at the moment to want to discuss.

To see why it matters, go watch I believe that its message is not complete (for instance I've noticed that correlations between stress and mental performance is highly dependent upon the mental task you are doing), but what it says about motivation is spot on.

The key factors are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Good leaders can give people the sense of all three while still getting them to do what the organization needs them to do. Micromanagement makes it clear what the organization wants, but destroys motivation.

For the record, I 100% believe in paying people what they are worth.

Determining that worth isn't an exact science.

I also believe that after a certain point, money has less appeal to people--that is, people are no longer motivated by the money.

By asking someone what they want, I'd like them to tell me what it is they need to be happy, so I can offer it to them.

The following video makes some pretty good points along that line:

If you ask people what they want and pay it to them, you will overpay some and underpay others. If you truly believe in paying people what they are worth, you have to go further.
This reminds me of this:

Basically, theres research showing that for knowledge based work, you just want to get out of the way and pay enough that they dont think about money. Increasing pay doesn't increase productivity

Chris mentions the 3 things that motivate people. Good video about this from RSA Animate if you haven't seen it yet:

I've been trying to use Dan Pink's ideas on motivation for a while now, it was good to hear someone at his level mention them. Hadn't watched the video in a while, thanks for linking it.
"Drive" by Dan Pink is a book I found to be a good read on motivation in general. I suggest anyone with some time to check it out. Book trailer:

The way I see it none of those two items are what makes employee's work harder.

Not really, plenty of people do software projects as a hobby and there is evidence that people tend do a better job at creative endeavors (discussed here when they find the work intrinsically rewarding rather than extrinsically rewarding (read, for cash). In fact extrinsic rewards such as payment can reduce the quality of work.
But you can’t fucking eat intrinsic reward! Is that really so hard to get?

Sure, many hobbyists will make lots of good software and that’s awesome. Twitter (and the like) will make software because they don’t have to monetize Glass, they just have to be present. The New York Times (and the like) will make software because they have existing infrastructure with which they can charge people outside of Glass (and people accept that infrastructure and are already used to it).

What, however, about people who develop apps for a living on their own or in their own small company, who don’t want to or think they can become Twitter or The New York Times? What about people who made their hobby their job? What about your mom-and-pop dev?

When I think “great apps” I think primarily of those developers. And they will not be able to survive on Glass.

The question is not what action can google take that will help the largest number of developers. The question is what action can google take that will result in the best experience for early adopters and trend setters thus causing the technology to be adopted successfully. I expect that long term google will allow non-free apps, but short term google wants to lower the bar to use an app. As you say a NYT app, a twitter app. I wouldn't be surprised if google was much more careful about what apps it allowed in the glass app store than the android market.

>What about people who made their hobby their job? What about your mom-and-pop dev? When I think “great apps” I think primarily of those developers. And they will not be able to survive on Glass.

Outside of enterprise contracting gigs very few mom-and-pop devs are successful in the mobile market (few winners, many losers). It's a gold rush not a realistic business environment.

But those people make far and away my favorite apps. I really think it‘s as simple as that. The best quality comes from those people – and Google blocks them. Just like that.
> What, however, about people who develop apps for a living on their own or in their own small company, who don’t want to or think they can become Twitter or The New York Times?

If you can't build a web app usable outside of Glass on more conventional devices, find a way of charging for it if you need to make money from the whole operation, and build a free interface to Glass, you aren't going to be building compelling Glass apps anyway, given the rather limited interactivity available via Glass.

> What about people who made their hobby their job? What about your mom-and-pop dev?

They build a web-based application (paid, freemium, or whatever other business model) first, and then, if it warrants, build an auxiliary interface for Glass which has no added charge.

> When I think "great apps" I think primarily of those developers. And they will not be able to survive on Glass.

Glass isn't really (by features, independent of ToS restrictions) a suitable primary app platform. So no developers are going to be able to survive on Glass alone.

There is no reason for all this unnecessary complication.
> There is no reason for all this unnecessary complication.

The reason is that: 1) Glass is not a platform suitable for complete apps, but for auxiliary interfaces for web-based services, and 2) Google doesn't want to encourage a model of people paying for services and then paying an additional charge for Glass access to the services, at least initially.

Mar 09, 2013 · shurcooL on A New Ideas Machine
Innovation prizes? I could not disagree more.

If you've seen the excellent RSA animate talk "Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us"[1] you'll see that it's quite the opposite. When it comes to mentally challenging tasks, people want autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Just pay them enough to take the issue of money off the table.

Personally, that really agrees with me. My ideal situation is to be funded via a sustainable crowd-sourced funding like Gittip, so that I can continue doing what I'm doing now: _not_ working at a deadend business that's only concerned about making a profit, where I hate working for my boss. Instead, I want to[2] create amazing software tools that make our world a better place to live. I really enjoy software development and want to make it better, funner, more efficient. I don't care about money beyond just making enough to pay for rent and food. Money and food are just in my way, stealing away from the time I could be working.

Thankfully, I still have some savings that'll last me maybe half a year before I do have to find a way to make a living again. But really, I want to keep this up.

My current life: wake up each morning, absolutely free of any commitments, and think to myself: what cool things can I do today to make the world better?



You da man! Thanks for saving me a bunch of typing.
Responses like these that always seem to miss the point, while at the same time are crafted specifically to hit on all the popular tropes ("I don't care about money beyond just making enough to pay for rent and food"). The point is that the model you describe isn't appropriate for the types of big problems the article wants to see solve. It also ignores the fact that money is a big motivator for a lot of the smart people out there. Not every potential innovator out there is the "pizza and rent money" type. And for god's sakes, people need to stop citing that research about work motivation. It gets used so far out of context that its lost all meaning.
> And for god's sakes, people need to stop citing that research about work motivation. It gets used so far out of context that its lost all meaning.

How so?

> "It also ignores the fact that money is a big motivator for a lot of the smart people out there."

Maybe it is, I don't know. But it isn't for me. I've been working the last 12 months 8+ hours a day, 5+ days a week on a free, open source project. My total income during those 12 months? Pretty much $0. Some people say I'm crazy for not having a monetization plan. But I do it because I believe there's a small chance, if I'm successful, it will have a lot of value. I hope that when I get closer to finishing it, it will be very useful to myself and hopefully other people too.

I would much rather work on what I love and enjoy rather than do anything else that gives me money. Money is a very low motivator for me. I only need it so I can keep doing what I'm already doing now.

Honestly, I'd say you are crazy. That lifestyle is simply unsustainable. It's certainly noble to want to create something that produces value for the world (and not being concerned with a monetary payout), I'm not knocking that ideal. It's the fact that you're basically mortgaging your own future to do so is what is "crazy". Of course, most people can't do this. They either have dependents or they don't have enough "pizza and rent money" to begin with.

Saying that "money isn't a motivator" is extremely short-sighted. Few people are motivated purely by money. It's the opportunities that money provides you that are valuable. Completely ignoring this fact and focusing 100% on some open source project as if that is the epitome of value creation is just setting yourself up for a serious reality-check. If you seriously do not see the value in acquiring money then I'd say you aren't looking at the big picture. Others definitely shouldn't be encouraged to follow suit. The HN crowd tends to idolize the noble hacker who isn't concerned about worldly things, but this is a tragic path for the vast majority of folks who may be convinced to go down it, likely yourself included. Reality can only be ignored for so long.

> It's the fact that you're basically mortgaging your own future to do so is what is "crazy". Of course, most people can't do this. They either have dependents or they don't have enough "pizza and rent money" to begin with.

From the perspective of other people, what I'm doing is likely crazy. I agree with that. I don't expect many people to follow this path, because it's not for them.

But it is for me. I feel like I don't have a choice, I do what I do because I feel it's my moral responsibility to do it and I couldn't do anything else. I believe in my cause that much.

I am referring to Bret Victor's "Inventing on Principle" talk that does a great job of explaining my approach.

> That lifestyle is simply unsustainable.

My current plan is quite simple and definitely sustainable. I work full time on my project, and I do my best to make it as good as possible in that time, hopefully making it profitable (i.e. so I can keep working on it) by the time my money runs out. I just have to make it provide value to lots of people, and the money will come in. If I don't succeed, then I look for a job to sustain my living and work on it on the side. When I have enough savings again, I can consider getting back to the project full time.

> It's the opportunities that money provides you that are valuable.

Sure, I don't disagree there. But since I care about my work and changing the world for the better more than anything else, money for me is only something that can support that lifestyle. If I had lots of it, then I could potentially hire people to help me work on it, etc. Also, if I were rich, it would be an indicator that what I'm doing is bringing lots of value to other people (hence they want to throw money at me). So I'm not opposed to making money, but it's far from the #1 thing I optimize for. I optimize for happiness.

> Completely ignoring this fact and focusing 100% on some open source project as if that is the epitome of value creation is just setting yourself up for a serious reality-check. If you seriously do not see the value in acquiring money then I'd say you aren't looking at the big picture.

So let's pretend I would focus on making money (i.e. by not working on this project). The way to make money is to produce value[1] and then monetizing that somehow. So it's best to do something in an area where I am most skilled, which would be programming, C++, graphics, user interfaces, etc. for me. So I could get a job at some company doing that. But why not just do what I want to do right away?[2]

A part of my plan is to take a huge risk. If I have even 1% chance of succeeding and changing the world in a significantly positive manner, then I'll happily take that chance. I want to do things most companies wouldn't dare try. Nothing is stopping me but me.

In conclusion, I'm not advocating my lifestyle for others, I just wanted to explain why I think it's best for me and I try to do the best I can...

P.S. I'm always open to criticism and I try to improve myself. My goal is to be the kind of person I'd want others to be. :) I'm not the most skilled at explaining my thoughts, so sorry if I didn't do the best job at it here.



Well, you certainly sound rational about your decision and for that I support your efforts. My concern was mainly about those who go into it without having a full understanding of the risk vs reward. HN and other hacker circles tends to idolize the noble hacker which may encourage others to follow suit who aren't in a position to make it work for them. As long as we're all clear about the risks and the likelihood of "success", then I'm all for it.
Thank you, I appreciate that. :)
"That lifestyle is simply unsustainable."

It's actually the very definition of sustainable.

I don't follow. Do you mean in the ideal case he mentioned where he got paid enough for food and housing to keep coding? Well, yeah, thats a given. But that was also spoke of as an ideal. In the real world so much effort would be put forth in simply acquiring "donations" or justifying continued support that it really defeats the purpose. The point is our society is not currently structured in such a way that makes this model sustainable.
No it is not. Working on a zero-pay project for a year straight is not possible unless the person has some money saved up in advance. What's going to happen when that money runs out? Currently shurcooL's lifestyle is not sustainable by definition - he has expenses but no income to sustain those expenses.
I agree with your point, and the parent's, that Valve's success is most directly caused by Steam runoff and their own sales dollars, and not necessarily their dynamic organization style. many people think or claim that their success is due to their management style? More importantly, is that why we're talking about it? Certainly that isn't the focus of this Gamasutra summary of the EconTalk podcast by Valve's economist.

Valve does talk a lot about their org-style in general, and they do talk a lot about their success. But I'm pretty sure they have a sound, mundane reason for those things: talent sourcing.

Standing out in the tech industry as an employer is tough, and the traditional offerings: "smart people working on interesting problems", "we're growing fast", "we're the market leader" are, excuse the expression, tantamount to banal rape. Valve has a further difficulty though, as expressed by Varoufakis:

"In many occasions people simply don't fit in not because they're not productive or good people, but because they just can't function very well in a boss-less environment."

They need to find talent like everyone else, but beyond that, they need to find talent that won't fail without someone taller telling them what to work on. Valve's sane solution to both problems (lack of talent, lack of talent-preparedness for their org-style) is to get loud about their org-style.

Valve's org-style is so wild and different that it means we could all talk about it until the cows return -- and we do. They routinely make (tech website) headlines just by repeating themselves, which draws crowds. It also causes candidates to self-select, lessening the fit-problem. Don't think you'd like to work at a Place Like Valve? You won't apply. Never thought about this org-style before? You will now.

Why do we love to hear about their org-structure so much? Is it just because it's different, or perhaps because of apparent claims it's more profitable? I think it's because it addresses a real problem. It would appear that silly directives-from-on-high don't exist at Valve, because they internally removed the notion of "on-high". They also claim to have given each employee the autonomy to figure out how and where to do their best work, while being paid enough. It sounds like they struck the creative-work motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose[1] on the noggin. Good marketing at the least.

[1] RSA Animate's adaptation of Dan Pink's talk

A lot of people don't like their boss, don't like hierarchies, and secretly suspect that they're made to do stuff as some kind of display of power.

And in some places? Yeah. Probably legit.

But I the thing is that it's impossible to know if the Valve model is worth studying for clues on how to better manage non-lottery-fountain companies, because the confounding factor of riding a money mississippi is basically totally impossible to factor out.

In conclusion, I'm jealous that I'll never have to face this problem up close.

I actually disagree that the Valve-style bossless organization "works" as a matter of universal assertion. It probably works for some companies and not others. However, the alternative is ludicrous and only "works" because, with 99% of large corporate organizations taking that form (legacy) there is no competition.

The more common corporate arrangement is the extortionist command economy in which one serves one's immediate superior or gets fired from a whole company. That is ridiculous and pathological. It might have worked in 1870, but it's starting to fail badly. Billions of dollars of value are being lost due to this outmoded way of doing things.

Valve is clearly not perfect-- they had a layoff earlier this month-- but it appears that they're still doing a better job, on a cultural front, than almost anyone else.

If I've somehow represented that I think their organization would work universally, I didn't intend to.

I do think it's important that Valve operate as they have (in being loud about their structure), to point the water out to us fish. It's commonplace to think that work is just the way work is, with managers and workers and you get a job then stay in it until you are promoted or fired or quit.

Valve is doing something different -- and of course it won't be perfect. But it's different, and they're shouting at the top of their corporate lungs about it. Hopefully it will help lead to the development of a spectrum of organizational styles. Even if it just brings some common willingness to mess about with the water and see where we go, that would be great.

High enough salary + great benefits to the point where needs are met are ideal. "Rockstars" may be able to negotiate with companies who want to hire those kinds of people, but if you are hiring only the best people and not the best people for your company then your culture will suffer. I like the way Valve does things. No rockstar culture like WallSt or Hollywood has. Everyone gets even footing and credit. You can earn more if your peers agree that you deserve it - people there are not chasing rewards - they are doing what they love well and being rewarded for it. It seems to work very well for them and other co-op like companies.

Oct 30, 2012 · TeMPOraL on The Web Is A Mess
I'm not sure. For what I can tell, it's a difficult and delicate topic, as intrinsic incentives tend to be overrided by extrinsic ones (e.g. pay someone for doing what he loves, he might soon start doing a worse job at it). See the RSA Animate talk about motivation[0].

But hey, we're a clever species, I do believe that someone will figure out how to structure reality so that we get more of the things we really want without using proxy incentives that backfire when overdone.

[0] -

Wow. I get a feeling that I saw it before, but I'm happy I got to watch this again. Now, doesn't solution seem obvious? Shouldn't there be a cap on how much you can earn from ads on your site? Just enough "to take the issue of money off the table" and not a cent more?

Ok, this really is not my area of expertise. I just feel that what we have now is both unfair to writers and disastrous for society :(

> Shouldn't there be a cap on how much you can earn from ads on your site? Just enough "to take the issue of money off the table" and not a cent more?

It could work for bloggers, but they're not the problem. The "news" services / aggregators / whatever are, and it's hard to put a cap on what a company should earn (I'm not even sure if it is a Right Thing to do).

> I just feel that what we have now is both unfair to writers and disastrous for society :(

Couldn't say it better myself.

I agree with the "disastrous for society" part. Information if becoming very hard to verify and I have seen with my own eyes this year the news being censored even from the "fire hose" aggregators like Google news.
What particularly annoys me are the article titles in popular news sites, that often are plain lies (that articles themselves later correct), intended to lure people into viewing full articles. The point is, people don't read all the articles, but they do skim the list of them, and they remember lies from the titles.
Not sure where you get such a conclusion about all the myriad VC firms out there. Founders who are getting a nice income and are able to work on changing the world can do well for the company and its investors:

Oct 19, 2012 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by gutyril
I've seen all kind of different programmers. The ones that are not in it for the money and the ones that hate their job but won't switch because it has a good pay. It reminded me of this animated movie about 'what motivates us' The essence: don't underpay and don't overpay.

More and more programmers are looking for good company cultures with a good (but not highest pay). Money will make your life easier but won't make you happy.

Hooray. That is exactly what drives me too. The culture, the people, the actual work is more important.

Working for a huge amount of money in a corporate machinery is a brain killer.

Yes! But make enough money so you don't have to worry leaving the lifestyle you'd want.
Haven't read the article yet, but is it somehow related to this video?
Yes. It even includes a screenshot from the video.
Was just about to put that link. On a personal note, I find it very true. However, I find that while not influencing happiness on the long run, salary does determine the acceptability of a position (good people tend not to gravitate to lower-than-average paying jobs). Once you're "hooked", it becomes more about A-M-P then salary and bonuses (not that those hurt :) ).
This reminds me of Dan Pink's talk on the science of motivation [0]. Ask a bunch of people to do something for little to no reward, and they find the task much more pleasurable than those who are highly rewarded for the same task.

Likely there's a good dose of cognitive dissonance thrown in: people who are highly rewarded justify doing the routine task for the money; those without pay have no extrinsic motivation so their brain fools itself and finds intrinsic reasons to enjoy the task.

In the case of the Festivus of Athletes™ (not 2011, not 2013, but somewhere in between) the volunteers get to have an insider's experience they otherwise wouldn't have, it's short duration so they don't burn out and get bored, and they experience camaraderie with the other volunteers.


That actually comes from Dan Pink[1]:

[1] Also a book

...and this framework has been around even longer than that, although the vocabulary has typically been "Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness":
Sounds like someone found Dan Pink's lecture:
current research suggests that the feeling of making constant progress and being appreciated at work are the most important motivator for people.
That has more to do with getting respect from your employers and having the feeling you're doing something valuable.

It's not merely compliments.

Yeah, let me join in here calling bullshit on this.

If you need to put a service in place to remind you how "awesome" you are, you simply lack confidence. No service in the whole wide world will give you confidence - it can only, temporarily, simulate what it would be like if you had confidence. Ergo - the minute you stop having a service remind you how "awesome" you are, you will go back to wondering. If you need a service to tell your employees that they are "awesome", you are inconsiderate and emotionally dead.

Real confidence is produced through the direct exchange of appreciation between two actual humans who care about each other.

I'm rarely this scathing, but this is garbage. It's cargo cult. It's pathetic.

It also sure doesn't help that that advertisement for the project reads like those dime-a-dozen "I want to sell you something you don't need" sites. Complete with meaningless stock pictures and cliparts.

> We think people need to feel genuinely included and that's what's missing from many work environments.

Yes, I think the word they have missed in their own text is "genuine". Because this is not genuine, this is automatized, no matter how many humans you throw into the mix at any point. There is no line of genuine appreciation going from one human (the person appreciating the work) to another (the person doing the work).

To paraphrase that greenpeace saying about "can't eat money" - When the whole world is social networked and all human interaction has been successfully automatized, people may finally realize that no technology will ever convince that one part in your brain that just frigging knows whether something is genuinely human or not. Because it knows. And that's why you will always wonder until you can fully appreciate the real thing.

> [...]a real person will call your team to tell them they are valued and appreciated

"Hey, I'm calling you to tell you that the person heading your team paid a service to make sure that a human calls you to inform you that they value and appreciate your work but not in a way where they would invest their own time and emotions into it, but let me not actually put it like that and instead make it tee-hee-silly because we both know that this is somewhat strange - yeah, I know, weird, hm?"

"Only in America", I guess?

Feb 28, 2012 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by marcuspovey
Isn't that what indie game development is all about? That the developers actually care.

At least that's a lot of why I like indie games. They often do awesome things. They usually don't just develop games to make money, but to make people happy. I think that's a lot about why they are more creative and not just another implementation of the same boring game with better graphics.;

This video cites several studies showing just that: beyond a certain threshold, money does not improve performance

I remember, I think this was in an RSAnimate video from Dan Pinker[1], and one interesting fact was that once you offered people money to do something, they had far less motivation to accomplish the task. I think offering money for the lessons creates the wrong tone--I'd personally rather create something for free than have a possibility of getting paid.

I think you have framed the problem incorrectly. If you are given the option to either make your course paid or fee you include people who are motivated for different reasons. If you wanted to create a free class, would the fact of having an option to create a paid course motivate you any less? I think that codecademy should create a structure similar to Apple's ibooks platform where you have the option to create paid content if you so wish.
Codecademy is smart - they realize that collecting use/accomplishment data on high-quality lessons carries much more upside than trying to sell the content created on their platform.
How is this smart?

Either you get money directly, or your left trying to monetize -accomplishment- data? Are we expecting the ad-market targeting newbie programmers to explode or something?

Monetary reward could destroy intrinsic motivation
I'm not sure about that. Doctors get paid a lot, but if you talk to them very few cite money as the reason they continue to practice medicine. I think increasing the compensation granted teachers could pull in talented folks who would make good teachers but also have other things that they like to do and are good at.
I know in my highschool all our science teachers had previous 'job' training. The chemistry teacher worked down in mines in (IIRC) Australia. The physics teacher had worked at a lab doing radiological work. The biology teacher actually went from field work, to university professor to highschool vice principal.
That sort of thing is strongly discouraged in the US by teacher pay structures.
My mum is a doctor and a teacher. As in, part time practicing MD (mostly women's health). She gets a decent salary teaching in the private sector, but only really does it because she likes teaching and hates working with sick people. In the public sector, they offered her a very low salary, and told her to get her paperwork together to prove she was senior enough (after over a decade of teaching, but she hadn't kept every pay stubb).
From tokenadult' comment:

Raising teacher pay systematically has been tried in the United States (notably in the state of Connecticut) and has not been shown to markedly raise pupil performance. </quote>

See the video from my comment above to understand why the following obvious suggestion might not work in practice:

An economist who closely studies education policy has suggested that pay and other incentives be used to encourage the least effective teachers to seek other occupations while rewarding the most effective teachers with increased compensation and more professional support. </quote>

Lack of purpose|mastery|autonomy: , also low salaries and being treated like a commodity in this case probably.
He is obviously not motivated by money and most people aren't when you dig deeper. Many geeks want to achieve mastery, succumb new challenges, etc. I recommend watching this [1] 10m video out about what drives us to understand this a little more.


This video about what motivates people is really interesting for this topic:
> Seriously can you please answer me, why someone who is so smart to have a Dr. degree or other title would be willing to work for free, or even pay for it??

I think this video will answer that question for you.

I don't have an answer to the rest of your questions but I think that video will answer your first question pretty well.

Sep 13, 2011 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by nooblin
Sep 10, 2011 · eneveu on Y Combinator by the Numbers
RSA also adapts a lot of their talks into animated videos, such as the well-known: (Dan Pink - Drive : The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us)

The difference is that they use "real drawings" instead of computer animations / kinetic typography.

Dan Pink's RSA talk came to mind for me:

He mentions a couple of studies.

This might fit in with Dan Pink's talk on 'Drive':

Passion can be driven by incentives outside of salary.

I haven't watched all of those RSA videos but I've seen quite a few. It's amazing how every one I have seen is outlandish propaganda that it seems no one would fall for, yet I stand completely alone in this viewpoint.
In my experience, banks need a lot more than competitive job postings to be places where talented developers want to go. Obviously YMMV, but it's red-tape hell, technologically dated, management heavy, non-creative, and a real daily grind. If it's the kind of job you want, you are much better off working for the Government.

This is exactly what working for a bank IS NOT:

Finance is pretty much like any sector, there's a huge variety between firms and even between individual teams within firms.

There are lots of areas of finance where technology is what provides the competitive edge and they tend to be much more agile and use recent technologies, but there are also lots of areas where the code that was written 20 years ago in Fortran still works perfectly fine and does the job.

My understanding of technology as a competitive edge in finance is that:

1 - it's a relatively small part of the sector

2 - it happens in intervals

Specifically for #2, you can look at flash trading, where the edge exists for a while, but then everyone more or less catches up..and it's a couple years before the next innovation.

Some other complaints: -Bank incentives are almost purely monetary (which does not work). -They tend to hire within the industry (it's an extreme place to find technical and managerial inbreeding). -They are extremely arrogant and prideful (making corrective measures hard to implement, since they aren't identified)

It's actually much broader than just flash trading, essentially you can divide it by which part of the bank it occurs in. Any front office tech (risk management, pricing, analytics, trading) app tends to be on the competitive edge as does anything it relies upon (infrastructure, feeds, tick databases, etc.)

Back-office technology (settlement, reconciliation, etc.) tends to move much slower.

It also depends on the asset class, more stagnant areas such a mortgages tend to have more stagnant codebases than "hot" areas like FX.

Competitive areas aren't the same across all firms either, while one firm might put a lot of money into it analytics technology another might ignore that area altogether and just buy in an off-the-shelf solution accepting that it's not going to compete in that area.

Essentially the only way you'll know about the quality of the tech you'll be working with is to be smart and ask questions at the interview stage (this is true for any firm).

> Essentially the only way you'll know about the quality of the tech you'll be working with is to be smart and ask questions at the interview stage (this is true for any firm).

Cannot emphasise how important this is. No one discusses how to navigate an interview from the perspective of a potential employee.

I couldn't agree more, I don't really share the - what I think is - meaningless view of the world that banks have. There are ways to make money and helping people be awesome at the same time.
It's also a huge amount of money.

In London, which obviously is much more of a financial hub than a technological one, the highest paid jobs for programmers are almost all in the financial industry.

Personally, I'd prefer to do something more interesting for less money, but that doesn't mean that it's not tempting.

My instantaneous gut reaction is discomfort. These are all good things, but the tone puts me off.

As someone who appreciates autonomy, I would rather be given an objective with advice on how to attain it than rules to follow. Even if the content is the same, it shows more respect.

In this case, the objective is simply situation awareness ( for both parties. The advice is to ask, debrief, and warn.

Dan Pink gave a good 10-minute talk about this sort of thing:

Fun thing: it was actually pretty hard for me to put it into this tone, since it's not really mine. :) But I wanted it to be short and rememberable. I even wanted to do an acronym like they do it in the military. Just saying :)

Exhibit situational awareness : declarative and flexible.

Ask, debrief, warn : imperative and brittle.

More importantly, the espoused framework only works for a development task oriented situation. What happens when the either bee behind to do some project or product management work and has a less task oriented role?

Quick edit: managers (e.g. below director level) are typically high-performing individual contributors who're given employees in order to amplify the manager's performance. The 'ask, debrief, warn' framework is essentially a manager's framework and views subordinates as if they were extra hands (grab that thing, provide tactile feedback to say it was grabbed, then (oh shit) warn me it was really hot). Seems an effective way for a manager to think/operate, but, as this thread shows, isn't appreciated by all subordinates since it points out that they're 'hands' rather than situationally aware rock stars...

As a Haskell user I have to say I love the "declarative leadership" idea...
Cool. That's where I was coming from. ;) Painting with too broad and general a brush:

Google, Haskell : Declarative

Burger King, PHP : Imperative

As a person that likes functional examples, "Exhibit situational awareness" is useless to me. "Great. How?" would be my first response. Ask, debrief, warn is a substantially better method for relaying this message to me.

As always, know your audience, I suppose :)

i am sure folks here have already looked at this : (RSA Animate - Drive), but doesn't hurt to spread the word again.

maybe marginally related to the article...

This is a classic False Dichotomy fallacy. There is a massive difference between "working for free" and "got a payrise that didn't quite meet inflation". This tenured professor isn't complaining that he no longer draws a salary.

Yes, most people won't work for free (note that there are heaps of charity workers, though, more than .01%) but it's not about "working for free"

Watch this video - it makes the point that money is indeed a prime motivator... until you have enough to keep you fed and housed. Then it changes - and not only is your 99.99% number meaningless, but straight out monetary rewards can reduce performance.

Yeah - the tenured professor is complaining that his management talks big but when it comes to showing actual appreciation, they complain that his evaluation figures are off. It's not the money - it's the fact that when it comes to real appreciation, they show what they really think, which is that doing something about cheating is unpopular and they don't really want to do it.

tl;dr: it's the respect, not the money.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey is a pretty seminal personal management book. It's my top recommendation in terms of "foundational" material. It's not got much in the way of practical tools, but the ideas are applicable everywhere.

I would recommend Drive by Dan Pink if you're interested in learning more about creative motivation. It's pretty short, and actually very well summarised here:

Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister is very good programmer-specific management material. They cite a lot of work benchmarking the productivity of different workplaces, so it's very "x is good, x is bad".

Jim Collins' Good to Great is an examination of businesses that succeed vs fail, and the attributes that get them there, it's essentially an extended summary of a longitudinal study he and his team did of businesses that outperformed the stock market by a high factor over 10 years. It's more leadership than management, but still very useful.

One that I haven't read yet (damn my stupidly big reading list) but recommend on reputation alone is First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Here's a summary:

I share your frustration about blah-blah blog posts. With the exception of First, Break All The Rules (which I haven't read yet) and 7 Habits (which I forgive because it's so damn good), the books I mention are based on actual research which is cited in the book, not just some dude going "I think this because I know stuff". Because they're books for busy people, they have summaries and bolded sections and callout boxes too. :)

Overall, though, I would caution you to not put the cart before the horse. There are a thousand books on management that could teach you something new, but it will all just go on the big pile of irrelevant information unless you actually need it. You won't unless you're actively trying to manage. If you start by spending that time you'll be much better placed to contextualise the knowledge and, therefore, actually benefit from it.

May 24, 2011 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by SRSimko

Dan Pick on Motivation. tl;dr. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

This is the animated TED talk that I referenced before on motivations. I'm sure you've seen this before, but still interesting in this context:
Hi hammock, thanks for the comment (I'm the author). For some reason you've reminded me of the motivation factors Dan Pink talks about. I wonder if trying to commit to estimates makes our creativity degrade in the same way as paying cash bonuses?

>freedom from money is not a monotonically increasing function of one's allotment

This is linked IMO to the studies mentioned in this video, which find that motivation and drive at work are similarly not a monotonically increasing function of pay, but in fact there is an optimal pay rate beyond which drive begins to decrease.


There are a lot reasons why executive overpay makes CEOs perform worse at their jobs. Foremost among them is that it enables them to make short-term plays that are risky or harmful to the company in the long run. A $500,000-per-year job is one that an executive desperately wants to keep. A $25 million-per-year job, with four years' pay as a golden parachute, is one that can safely be blown up after a couple years. (No CEO intentionally blows up, but many take stupid risks driven by ego and status-based avarice that they would be less inclined to take if paid modest salaries and thereby more attached to their jobs.)

There are two reasons why executive overpay exists. The first is self-dealing by a small, socially closed elite. They do it because they can. The second is to motivate younger people who greatly overestimate their chances of ascending to such ranks: printing dreambucks, I call it. I would argue, were it not for the cultural corrosion the overpay causes, that executive pay is actually a very, very cheap mechanism for achieving the 2nd goal. Overpaying executives does motivate people to want to get to that rank. The problem is more subtle and cultural: what does it motivate them to do? Be more creative? No. Be more ethical? Certainly not. Be more ruthless? Sure, but "ruthless" is a hair's breadth away from psychopathic and workplace psychopaths (cf. Fiorina) can destroy companies.

>Sure, but "ruthless" is a hair's breadth away from psychopathic

The literal meanings are identical. "Ruth" is an archaic word for a feeling of pity, compassion or remorse.

Why do you believe corporate risktaking is harmful to the company in the long run?

If anything, I always thought the common criticism of big corporations is that they are far too risk averse. E.g., rather than taking a risk and betting it all on Maemo (an early linux-based smartphone OS), Nokia instead went the safe route and have now stagnated. Similarly, when problems arise, many big companies layer small fix after small fix on an existing system - it's much safer than investing $250M in a complete renovation.

He said "risky or harmful to the corporation in the long run" so I don't think he believes there is a causality connection there.

No longer trying to speak for the GP here, but I think that for many of the people that hate 'golden parachutes,' it violates their sense of justice. The entire company faces negative consequences when a high-risk maneuver fails, except for the CEO that decided on the maneuver in the first place. When a startup fails, I imagine it's very hard for anyone involved to avoid consequences, for the same reason it's easy to tell who in a startup is creating what value.

Also, how many millions does a CEO have to make before it qualifies as a 'golden parachute'? The last CEO of Nokia (Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo) had a sallary of 4.8 million euros [1] and the current one (Stephen Elop) got a $6 million signing bonus along with his $1.4 million salary [2]. Evidently, this amount of money wasn't enough, although I realize golden parachutes also involve severence packages that may not be disclosed at this point.

The real question on the effectiveness of golden parachutes is this: Are there any examples of large companies with golden parachutes taking high risks that paid off? Apple might count, but I'm not sure if Steve Jobs feared the consequences of failure after he had already been ousted as CEO once.

[1] [2]

The main purpose of a golden parachute and cash comp is to allow a troubled company in trouble to get good talent.

Lets say Nokia's chances of success are 20%, but you have the ability to improve them to 30%. Suppose your pay package is 100% incentive based, you only get paid if Nokia survives. Why would you take this job? You have a 70% chance of getting nothing. It's much easier to go back to MS, and get a guaranteed paycheck.

In a few years, it will be easy to blame Stephen Elop and claim it is unjust for him to be paid even while Nokia tanks. But it isn't his fault that Nokia is in trouble (he's been CEO for 13 days) - he might be their best hope for survival. If he wasn't getting paid cash up front, he would probably just turn down the job and Nokia would be in even worse trouble.

(Not trying to endorse Elop, I know very little about him or Nokia. Just putting a face to the situation rather than speaking in the abstract about CEO A and company X.)

The main purpose of a golden parachute and cash comp is to allow a troubled company in trouble to get good talent.

At $1 million or more per year, you can get all the talent you need. I have more talent than 90+% of big-company CEOs in the US and I will work for less. What is actually being paid-for in getting a big-ticket CEO is connections and reputation. Don't misuse words like that, at least not the word "talent".

Maybe you could back up this claim with some information about yourself? Your HN profile doesn't link to your blog (which I found by googling what I guessed was your name), and your blog's prominently featured 'about' page is the Wordpress template. All I know about you is that you have opinions, express them well, and make up card games.
Reputation is another way of saying "estimate of ability based on past accomplishments."

I'm sorry that, in spite of having more talent than 90% of CEO's, you haven't actually accomplished enough for people to trust your self evaluation.

Reputation, in this specific case, refers to fame within a small and socially closed set of people who care more about contacts and image than accomplishments.

How long have you been running this conservative/troll schtick? It's entertaining and I commend you for your excellent execution of it. Let me guess, you also post on Autoadmit pretending to be a biglaw partner, right?

Risk-taking isn't one of those things that's universally bad or universally good. For entrepreneurs, who have little to lose and a lot to gain, most risk-taking is good. For established companies, which have a lot to lose and a lot to gain, it's much more of a balancing act.

There are a lot of risks that have a moderately large upside and a huge potential downside, that tends to be delayed, that a lot of CEOs are given a lot of incentives to take. Mark Hurd with HP comes to mind: it's pretty risky to cut payrolls, gut R&D budgets, and focus mainly on really high-margin products like overpriced ink. The upside is a big bump in profits, but the downside risk is making your employees hate the company and getting killed when someone else starts selling slightly less overpriced ink. The downside tends to be delayed a bit, though, so CEOs who make $25m and get a golden parachute don't need to worry about it.

I'm not sure how you can characterize reducing costs and making short term profits a "risk-taking". If anything, it's the safest thing Hurt could do. Research is risky. Big, ambitious projects are risky. Selling toner isn't.

Also, most CEO's incentives are medium to long term, anyway. Compensation is usually a mix of cash and restricted stock, all of which goes down the drain if the company tanks. Take Ed Whitacre as an example - his pay is $1.7M in cash + $7.3M in restricted stock. His fortune is strongly tied to the medium-term (several years) value of GM.

The amount of risk isn't as important as the kind.

R&D project: if it fails, you paid people to do something that wasn't commercially viable. You have a lot of talent and knowledge under one roof. If it succeeds, upside potential is tremendous. You can move those smart people to another project that might have better odds of taking off.

Laying people off, not because you need to, but because you don't have the vision to make decisions you didn't study in business school: saves costs and usually pops the stock price for a few months, but causes the best people to leave when they can, trashes the culture, and fills the company with mediocrities and yes-men. Upside is minimal; downside is potential loss of the whole company.

When you phrase it this way, there is no incentive for anyone (CEO or shareholder) to prefer layoffs to a big R&D project.

With the R&D project, the CEO gets a big payoff if it succeeds, and loses only his stock options if it fails horribly and takes down the company. Big upside, no downside. With layoffs, the stock price pops for a few months and goes back down years later when the CEO's restricted shares are allowed to be sold. The upside to the CEO is truly minimal in this case.

You write as if the CEO is malicious and willing to lose money in order to ruin a perfectly good company.

Actually, it's more like this. Most CEOs aren't going to start R&D projects because (a) they'll pay off later, during a successor's tenure, and (b) vision can't be taught in MBA programs.

On the other hand, cutting the R&D projects and saying that "unprofitable operations" (even if they were profitable) were slashed will pop the stock price in the short term.

You're naive if you think CEOs don't have ways to benefit from temporarily popped stock prices even if their restricted shares can't be sold until much later. If they want to be a bit sleazy and secretly sell early, they can ask a spouse or sibling to short-sell or buy puts on the open market. Or they can use foreknowledge of the pop to hand one-day gains over to their friends. Illegal? Probably. (The reason I don't say "yes" is that insider trading has a technical meaning that most violations of the law's spirit don't meet.) Unethical? Yes. Likely to lead to jail time? No. Common as dirt? Yes.

It's pretty rare for people to commit insider trading violations for their own accounts, because it's easy to get caught. Instead, they tell their friends what is about to happen as a means of favor-trading. With that, it's pretty much impossible to get caught.

I don't think most corporate executives are malicious, so much as avaricious and narcissistic. Will they help their companies if it suits them? Yes. Will they hurt their companies if it suits them? Most of them will. The "we are the nobility and you are the peasants" mentality prevents most of them from caring too much either way about their companies; they care more about themselves, their friends, and maintaining their social class.

Risk-taking isn't one of those things that's universally bad or universally good.

Thank you. Degenerate risk-taking is bad enough, but criminal when other people will suffer most of the consequences.

Good risks generally have limited downside. For example, R&D projects and startups that, if they fail commercially, only cost the money put into them, are good risks. Bad risks are generally those that have huge downside and low upside, that are taken because the consequences can be pushed off onto other people. An example of this would be eschewing a $500,000 safety device on an oil rig under a mile of ocean, thus admitting (realized, thanks to BP) risk of ecological catastrophe.

Corporations are notorious for externalizing costs but where they really shine is in the externalization of low-frequency, high-impact risks that most people can't evaluate. They're great at that.

I think that corporate executives often find themselves in a place where boredom gets the better of them. In dysfunctional companies, a well-studied executive can add value. The reward for this is moving on to a better job at a better company. Eventually, the executive ends up as the CEO of a great company like HP before some awful CEOs did it in. Problem: the company is running well and doesn't really need a CEO. People are already doing great work without direction. Result: CEO gets bored. I know a day trader who increased his profits by refusing to work between 10:30 and 3:00. He could find good trades in the first and last hour of the day, but "boredom trading" in the bland middle injected noise and didn't make any money for him. Most big-company executives are bored traders: making capricious decisions that just add noise, just to feel useful and fill time.

> Corporations are notorious for externalizing costs but where they really shine is in the externalization of low-frequency, high-impact risks that most people can't evaluate.

So true. This reminds me Feynman's investigation of the Challenger crush.

Thought provoking video on what motivates highly skilled workers -
Mar 01, 2011 · xiongchiamiov on [Missing Story]
Pay's not a great motivator for most people in our field, once it gets past a certain low level. There's a summary of an interesting RSA talk at ; I'd appreciate links to the mentioned studies if anyone has them.
What you linked to is an animation of a Ted talk by Daniel Pink. This in turn comes out of his book Drive. The thesis is that a higher paycheck will not spur greater creativity; it says nothing about what will spur one to move laterally to a company. All things being equal, people would rather have more pay.

People always say that they are making enough at their level; but when the offer comes, it takes about 10% to get someone to move from Redmond to Seattle.

insert upvotes and a repost to the front page

Open source software grew out of the Free Software movement, which was modeled on the activities of scientists. Papers would be published in journals for everyone to read. It was free to teach a scientific theory to your students. Researchers built on each others' work.

Drug research is scientific research. The distribution of drugs is actually pretty cheap -- once you know the formula, you can usually make the drug rather inexpensively. It's the R&D that needs funding, and it's currently funded by proprietary drug companies much like Microsoft, Adobe etc. built THEIR software. But years later, IE still sucks and open source browsers have helped the world a lot. Our mobile phones all run WebKit. We are lucky that Netscape open sourced their codebase and formed Mozilla, which at the time was an precedented move. These days, Apple, Google and Facebook work with the open source community, whereas Microsoft is becoming more and more irrelevant. If they joined with the open source communities instead of hiding their code they would probably bounce back -- for example if they threw out their old rendering engine and based IE10 on WebKit.

Certainly patents and software help the old business models that rely on them (drug companies, newspapers, proprietary software companies). I think in software we have shown that over time, free information and community collaboration can produce better, more stable, more standards-compliant products. The question is, can we do this in other areas?

I would argue that we have to separate the distribution network (Apple distributing apps, etc.) and the R&D. The distribution networks have to compete on price, efficiency, ease of access, etc. But the R&D is not necessarily done by drug companies. What happened to all that money we raise in "find the cure" walkathons? Where does it go? A lot of the drug research is done in universities, where papers are published openly and freely. I expect the drug companies to fight open source research just like Microsoft fought open source. But at the end of the day, there has to be a good system in place to fund R&D as a community that SHARES knowledge with the world.

Don't get me wrong, clinical trials cost money, and dealing with the FDA costs money. But as far as innovation, there would be MORE innovation if people freely published the knowledge and built upon what others have done. You made a drug based on this gene sequence? I can make one that helps these gene sequences. That's the future, imho.

The surprising truth about what motivates us:

Smart people aren't just motivated by greed. Lots and lots of professors in university are motivated simply by making a difference in their field, and in their world. They want to make a breakthrough because they love their work. Sometimes they donate everything they get back to the university. Similarly, the kids who grew up with computers formed a hacker culture that loves to show off what they did to others. I think the first steps should be to foster that sort of "open source culture" among kids learning science in high school and college, and to provide the infrastructure for better online journals. When they finish grad school, they will often publish their research for free as a matter of helping the world. The drug companies won't be able to charge a huge markup on the drugs. The drugs would be manufactured at cost by the distribution networks (which are regulated by the government, of course, so no one slips a mickey in the drugs).

A great example of an open source drug is this "cure for cancer" discovered in Canada:

it may very well cure cancer in lots of different people. DCA has already been produced for over 100 years and no one can patent it. Which is great for the public at large. Imagine people taking DCA after the FDA has certified it, and it being produced cheaply. Basically, I think that we are just starting to see the ways in which a patent-less and copyright-less world can actually produce more innovation and useful solutions for people, than one where information is locked up in corporate silos and controlled by special interests.

Well said.

It is a colossal myth that pharma companies have to charge a lot for patented medications because of development costs (this is the story pushed, of course, by Big Pharma themselves). However, they spend most of their money on advertising:

Instead of innovation, a certain amount of pharma research is devoted near the end of a drug's patent lifetime to merely tweaking that established, well-studied drug a bit to produce a slightly different form. Product extensions with these slight modifications, generally of dubious benefit, can get at least 3 years of market exclusivity if their developments involve clinical research. Thus, what we get are slow rollouts of extended release, timed release, buffered, etc., etc., formulations of some old drug. Here's a good paper on some of the other strategies used by pharma to extend patent protection:

"Second, the pharmaceutical industry is not especially innovative. As hard as it is to believe, only a handful of truly important drugs have been brought to market in recent years, and they were mostly based on taxpayer-funded research at academic institutions, small biotechnology companies, or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The great majority of “new” drugs are not new at all but merely variations of older drugs already on the market. These are called “me-too” drugs. The idea is to grab a share of an established, lucrative market by producing something very similar to a top-selling drug. For instance, we now have six statins (Mevacor, Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol, and the newest, Crestor) on the market to lower cholesterol, all variants of the first. As Dr. Sharon Levine, associate executive director of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, put it,

If I’m a manufacturer and I can change one molecule and get another twenty years of patent rights, and convince physicians to prescribe and consumers to demand the next form of Prilosec, or weekly Prozac instead of daily Prozac, just as my patent expires, then why would I be spending money on a lot less certain endeavor, which is looking for brand-new drugs?"

A formed editor of the New England Journal of Medicine noted, "The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion) [in 2002]. Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself."

Thanks for bringing up those points. I can really only speak from my position in the software industry and say that every time I see a patent suit in the news, it seems to be harming innovation. Like I said, the big companies spend a lot of money on squashing the competition, which already includes branding, advertising, and so forth. Patents are a great weapon that may be marketed as helping the little guy, the startup, protect themselves. But in reality, this is the more likely scenario: startup gets a few patents. Big company sues them for something, and startup runs risk of going bankrupt. Big company had more patents, and more money.

When it comes to big companies, they use the patents as weapons against competition and innovation (and why not, that is their fundamental purpose: to enforce a monopoly). Google doesn't want to pay royalties to Apple for the H.265 format or whatever. (That's one example that comes to mind.) If we ignore startups for a moment, the big companies could compete directly instead of invoking government-enforced monopoly rights. You could see how competition on actual BENEFIT to the public would be improved if patents were out of the picture. There would still be advertising budgets.

I have a question: We've had patents and big pharma for a long time now, right? Why does all the mainstream medicine in this country have only one answer for almost all diseases: PHARMA DRUGS? And how much better did they get at curing cancer? More people get cancer today than 100 years ago, but how much better did they get at improving people's quality of life with various types of cancers?

Meanwhile, do you hear a lot about treatments to ANY major disease that are not monetizable as drugs? Most doctors talking about this are marginalized by the medical community. Can it really be that there are no other types of treatments out there besides pills? And that there aren't any cures to be found? The FDA requires clinical studies to be done before a drug can claim to diagnose, prevent or treat any disease, understandably. But look at us as a society. We need a better way of organizing and verifying medical information about various drugs, research, conditions, etc.

It seems to me that the information the public is exposed to is dominated by the pharma companies. They advertise to the public ("ask your doctor about XYZ" -- really, I gotta tell my DOCTOR about it?). They push their products which have been certified by the FDA ... and sometimes, they're wrong and their drugs harm people. Meanwhile, most of the innovation comes from the independents, the university labs. If they published information freely we would all benefit. I'm not sure what could be done to reform the FDA system, though.

"Mainstream medicine" doesn't have "only one answer for almost all diseases." Think of the almost stereotypical statement from a doctor: "Stop smoking, eat less, and exercise more." There's research in burn therapy and speech therapy and many other fields which has nothing to do with drugs. The push for mosquito netting is a prevention remedy for malaria. Go back in history and you'll find that garbage collection in large cities was often run by the public health department. Even the law that "all employees must wash hands before going back to work" is there for a medical reason.

Here's what the WHO says about cancer: . 1/3rd of the cases can be prevented by "Reduction of tobacco consumption", "A healthy lifestyle and diet", and "Early detection through screening". The first two of those have nothing to do with drugs.

Also: "The predicted sharp increase in new cases – from 10 million new cases globally in 2000, to 15 million in 2020 - will mainly be due to steadily ageing populations in both developed and developing countries and also to current trends in smoking prevalence and the growing adoption of unhealthy lifestyles." Feel free to download the full report.

As for "treatments to ANY major disease that are not monetizable as drugs"; vaccines are not drugs. Getting the shot for tetanus is much less profitable to a pharmaceutical company than going through treatment, but no one seriously argues for removing the vaccine so pharmas can make more profit.

Economically, if there is a major disease then people will pay to not have the disease. Therefore there's always going to be an issue of money involved, even if it's promoting a diet or exercise program. The flip side of your question is, do any major diseases have a remedy which can be done without monetization? Most of the historically big ones are solved (eg, by washing hands before assisting in a birth, or making sure children get vitamin D). Plus, the non "mainstream" medicines are also influenced by the money; look how big the homeopatic industry is.

"There are no other types of treatments out there besides pills?" I just listed a half-dozen.

"And that there aren't any cures to be found?" Pardon? Up until the 1980s the treatment for gastric ulcers was "rest, bland foods, and drink milk." Now we know most ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori and it's completely curable with drugs. How is this not a cure? Or what is it you want?

As for "a better way of organizing and verifying medical information about various drugs, research, conditions, etc." -- what is it you want? Go to . They've spent a lot of time compiling overview information. Want more information? Medical researchers have spent a lot of time providing exactly what you've asked for. What is it you want?

If anything, it's the paradox of choice. There's so much information that most people ignore what's available, because they would rather not have to wade through everything. Which is why drug ads, and dieting ads, and fitness ads, and so on work. Sad to say.

The statement that "most of the innovation comes from the independents" is just wrong. Read . During 1998-2007, 252 new drugs were approved by the FDA. 58% had their origin in pharmaceutical companies, 18% in biotech, and 24% from universities.

Besides, most of the university research _is_ published freely, although it can cost money to access the journals (or a visit to a research library). And just because a novel compound shows effectiveness in a research environment doesn't mean it will become a good drug, and there's a lot of research which needs to be done to get from "I have an idea which works in a test tube" to "here's a new treatment for a disease", and most of the intermediate steps are "doesn't work, try again."

Thanks. I mostly posted my last message as a way to get informative responses, which I think this is :) I sometimes like to learn more about a subject matter I'm interested in, while discussing it, so it was late at night and I decided that was a good way to learn a little more -- by overstating my case in my ignorance and getting different viewpoints.

Although I do want to ask one thing ... to answer whether there are treatments to ANYmajor disease that are not monetizable as drugs, you said that besides drugs, there are also vaccines. But aren't vaccines developed the same way -- basically patented by pharma companies? Also, is there a list somewhere of cures developed in the last 30 years? I just have this impression that the pharma company is a big "sponsor" of medicine and that alternative treatments or cures don't really take hold in the mainstream medical community (i.e. when you go to a doctor) ... and that there is very little "official" information about them. So it's hard to figure out what works and what doesn't when you have a disease that may be cured using alternative methods, like some forms of cancer etc.

So you want me (or others) to hand walk you through the field of medical research, instead of doing 10 minutes of Google research?

Did you go to the FDA or NIH home pages to research your questions? FDA lists a number of other non-drug remedies on their home page including medical devices, radiation devices, xenotransplantation, and blood substitutes.

"Cures developed in the last 30 years" is highly judgmental. Does LASIK surgery to correct nearsightedness count as a cure? Is being overweight a disease? And gastric bypass one possible cure? What about hepatitis C treatment which has a 90% likelihood of clearing the body of the disease, vs. 40% without the treatment? Do you count melanoma cures, by detecting the disease early and removing affected tissue? Diabetes used to be deadly. Now is isn't cured but it is easily treatable. Does that count? Cochlear implants so that once deaf people can now hear? Artificial corneas so the blind can see again? HIV treatments so that what was once a guaranteed death sentence within 5 years is now a manageable disease?

Did you at all try searching for the answers to your question? Just about everything I listed here should be common knowledge.

Yet when I look for pages that talk about useful treatments and remedies, they are overwhelmed by people like you who disbelieve all the successes, and are SURE that the pharmaceutical industry is hiding the real cures. Since you know, employees at pharmaceutical companies and their friends and family never get those major disease.

The reason there is little "official" information about alternative treatments is that they've been tested over and over again, and not proven effective, and in cases harmful.

Bear in mind that there's a big and mostly unregulated industry behind alternative medicines, so there's also strong political pressure to keep those so-called treatments available. The homeopathic industry in the US has revenues of around US$1 billion. The chiropractic industry makes about $18 billion in revenue, with $430 million by sales of "supplements." Traditional Chinese Medicine is about $5 billion and acupuncture about the same. This is at least $10 billion of industry - surely they can provide rigorous tests. Just how much of the alternative market is spent on research? Not much that I can tell.

That gives a strong incentive to either castigate "mainstream" medicine or to promote itself as "complementary", and little incentive to verify claims. Since you overstate your case, I'll overstate mine - you are being brainwashed by snakeoil charlatans.

There is no evidence other than anecdotal stories that alternative medicines cure any sort of cancer.

Makes sense. The situation is definitely more complex than I have thought about.

When I said "non drug treatments" or "cures", what I meant was... are there many examples where a disease was investigated and either

1) a treatment was found which was available using a non patented substance, such as DCA (which was available for a hundred years), basically research published by a pharma company that found you can treat a disease in a way that doesn't make money for pharma companies via patents, or

2) a cure that basically eliminated the disease in most cases so no further treatments were necessary.

I am not asking this with an agenda, I am just genuinely curious. I want to find such a list.

It would also help me understand better whether the current system is capable of producing and popularizing treatments (and cures) which may not be helping the pharma company's bottom line. I don't want to parrot quacks who talk about pharma "suppressing" this knowledge, just wondering how often knowledge like this is willingly published, and where.

The reason it seems plausible to me that this issue might be a problem, is the economics and incentives of it. If you were a pharma company and you sunk $100M in research for a cure of disease X, and somehow you found two things (in your own labs, say), that

a) there is a treatment that you can patent and charge a markup to recoup your investment and make a profit, and

b) there is an equal or superior treatment which cannot be patented because it was freely available or there is prior art

I don't see your promoting or even publishing (b) as being fiscally responsible to your shareholders and your company's bottom line. So it seems to me there would be a conflict of interest if a non patented treatment is found. A similar case can be made for a cure. Why push the cure if pushing the treatment generates a much bigger long term return on investment? It just seems to me that there is some conflict between the interest of the shareholders and actually publicizing a cure. Of course, there is some value in the PR that your pharma company found the cure, but if it's estimated to be less than the profit from the ongoing treatment, what is the incentive? What is the company going to do?

You dismissed vaccines earlier, since can be covered under patent. But Salk refused to patent the polio vaccine. In the mid-20th century, polio was killing more American children than any other communicable disease. Now it's nearly eradicated.

Just read . It brought tears to my eyes. "By the time Thomas Francis stepped down from the podium, church bells were ringing across the country, factories were observing moments of silence, synagogues and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping." "It was as if a war had ended."

I'm sure companies could have made more profit selling tens of thousands of iron lungs a year. I refuse to believe that sort of profit was a serious consideration.

Something more prosaic - cavities are greatly reduced with fluoride treatment. Fluoridated water and/or toothpastes have greatly reduced dental bills.

And I can't stress this enough: research consistently shows that exercise is healthy, eating fruits and vegetables is healthy, and that cigarettes are not healthy. There's almost no cost to these and there's no patent coverage at all.

If you want something more disease like, then again I point to stomach ulcers. Most are caused by H. pylori infection, and the first treatment was a standard antibiotic, which was off-patent by the time the bacteria link was discovered.

Or cholera. The best treatment for that is oral rehydration therapy, which in general "saves millions of children a year from death due to diarrhea - the second leading cause of death in children under five." In the home-made version, "1 liter of boiled water, 1 teaspoon of salt, 8 teaspoons of sugar, and added mashed banana for potassium and to improve taste." People get better faster with antibiotics, but they will recover so long as they are sufficiently hydrated. Simple, but people in the 1800s didn't know this and sometimes it killed up to 2/3rds of the people on the wagon trails out to the US West.

This simple treatment didn't receive world-wide recognition until the 1970s, based on fundamental research done in the 1960s. (There were people who prescribed this sort of treatment earlier, but without enough studies to be persuasive, nor with physical explanations of why it should be effective.) But with it the mortality rate is under 1%, instead of 50%.

The best cure, btw, is prevention via improved water treatment. That has nothing to do with pharmaceutical companies.

Your view of the patent system, pharmaceutical development, and the people who work in them is woefully simplistic. If I worked for a company and found that the cure for malaria/cancer/whatever was to eat an orange every day then there's a huge personal incentive for me to publish. For one, that would likely lead to a Nobel Prize. Remember also that most of the people doing drug research got into the field because they want to cure or at least treat disease. They think that drugs or vaccines are the most likely solution, but that's a means, not an end. Do you really think that if a researcher found a non-drug solution that they would be able to stay quiet?

Or like I said earlier - drug discovery researchers and their friends and family come down with the same diseases as others in their community. Why would someone want to "suppress" information which would lead to their parents being treated for Alzheimer's, even if it isn't a drug treatment. Or do you really think people working for pharmaceutical companies are so amoral and concerned with the bottom line?

For that matter, look at organizations like the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases. It's co-sponsored by the drug company Novartis, which has said it "will seek to make treatments developed by the NITD available without profit to the poor in developing nations in which these diseases are endemic."

I am not saying the drug companies are pure of heart. There's strong economic incentives to find medicines which can treat heart disease, for example, in part because people don't exercise, don't eat the right foods, and continue to smoke. Given two diseases they are more likely to go after the first world disease, where there's more money to be made, than a third world disease, where there isn't. But the people who make up the drug companies are human, and want to help other people.

Your argument about fiscal responsibility is a nearly worthless concept. Consider that I am a CEO of a large company and I've said that we would contribute $10 million to charity during the year. A shareholder might sue me for irresponsibility. But that might be what's needed to keep me as head of the company. Or it might be justified as improving morale, since its employees feel better about how their work helps others. Or it might be good advertising and improve the company's market image. Your statement assumes that immediate short-term money is and should be the only concern in a company and that's simply not the case, else no US company would ever donate money to charity.

Or as another example, do you think it's fiscally responsible for Oracle to contribute money to Oracle Racing, which funds Larry Ellison's sailboat racing interests?

Lastly, there are a lot of diseases in the world. Most attempts at a cure fail. Most pharmaceutical researchers fail to discover even one drug in a career. Finding a non-pharmaceutical cure would, for the books, count as just another failure. The odds of finding a non-pharmaceutical cure between the time that a lot of money has been spent on finding a pharmaceutical one and the time that it would have made most of its revenue, is small. It's much more likely that another pharmaceutical company will introduce their own drug for the same market during that time. Seriously, by the time someone's spent $100 million on a drug (so about 20% of the way to market), there's been a huge amount of research on the disease, other forms of treatments, the drug pathway, and so on, including research outside of the company. The case you talked about is so unlikely that I can't see anyone making a decision based on that possibility.

Now your homework is to read the Wikipedia pages for cholera, polio, Jonas Salk, smallpox, typhoid, penicillin and Albert Alexander, and Helicobacter pylori and Robin Warren.

Reading this I thought, I'm glad that Hacker News has so many smart people. I learned a lot :) Thank you for your thoughtful response. And I did follow up by looking on Wikipedia!
Jan 11, 2011 · MrDunham on Inequality in Equalland
There's a fantastic video on What Motivates Us. Link is [video] .

One of the things they showed an inverse correlation on amount someone gets paid and what they produce when it's anything above menial labor.

Highly worth a watch.

Jan 10, 2011 · biot on Inequality in Equalland
When I saw your link, I was fully expecting this video: -- also quite entertaining and informative.
potential counter arguments can be found in daniel pink's interview at

Atlassian is a company that is well known for encouraging employee creativity.

First of all, they have a 20% time similar to Google. 20% of the whole work week can be spent on a personal project, as long as it could be potentially beneficial to Atlassian.

They also have something called a "FedEx" day - the goal is to deliver a software prototype of something in 24 hours (deliver in 24 hours, hence the name "FedEx"). It's a big competition between developers and there's even a trophy for the winner!

Both of these programs have created a lot of awesome features for their software. I think it's something that others should consider emulating...

The obligatory "drive" video:

Disclaimer: I'm going to work for Atlassian soon

or with animation
Watching that was a very worthwhile 10 minutes: an interesting set of ideas, brilliantly presented.
This video might give you some insights:
Watch this vide: "Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us"

Most programmers prefer to work on a fun project even if it pays less. Hackers don't do startups because they want to get rich; they do it for the same reason they do open-source: they like having autonomy and mastery, and working towards a goal.

It's just that when you do a startup, there's a good chance of generating revenue, so that you can quit your day job (because it sucks) and focus on your own business.

If you have to choose between getting a job vs. working on an open source project, it's a tough call (developers need to eat). If you choose between a job and startup, it's easier, because you can get money by starting your own startup.

I don't agree with PG's idea of "getting paid more will motivate you more". What you get in a startup is not "more money", what you get is "more autonomy". In fact, in s a startup you probably "complete autonomy" and "complete mastery"; these are way more valuable for programmers than "getting paid 10 times more".

Exactly, the "Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us" video is a great rebuttal of this idea.
Without more specifics it's hard to give practical advice. Daniel Pink's book 'Drive' and the video that has been doing the rounds in response make an awful lot of sense.

Essentially to get the best from people you need to give them * Autonomy * Mastery * Purpose

I suspect from your question that you are most interested in focusing on Mastery, specifically how to help them make progress towards it.

I found Pragmatic Programer to be a pretty good general resource.

Outside of that I'd second the other comment here taking about Design Patterns - I think that the Head First book is a great introduction

Day to day, finding ways to give to really quick feedback is important, code review and general collaboration with the others will really help.

check this:

Don't "do what you love"... "Love what you do". Aim at something rewarding in autonomy and mastery rather than holding out for a "cause" (if you want to maximize happiness). If you find a cause ("something important") anytime during this process, you can chase that too. But if you look at 100 people who really love what they do with their lives, I think it's surprising how few of those jobs fall into the "something important" bucket.

> “There is no reason that money can't be an effective motivator, or that grades can't motivate students in school,” he said.

Ok, well then what about this [1] video from this [2] submission?

This makes me think about something else entirely: It should be easier to draw connections between submissions like these. It should be easier to link repetitive discussions into a cohesive whole. It should be easier to build something grand from the time we invest in social news communities. As it is, it often feels like a waste of time. Someone please build this. My time's spoken for.



Edit: It'd be somewhere around the intersection of Stack Overflow, Wikipedia and HN

Jun 07, 2010 · 12 points, 5 comments · submitted by aweida


What a trite and naïve rephrasing of Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs ( ). I will certainly grant that Economists and Business people need to have these ideas battered into their thick crania, however it's irritating to have the speaker present ideas as if they were novel which are not only not novel, but actually thousands of years old.

If you pay people well enough to decouple their concerns about economic survival from their work, it shouldn't be surprising that there isn't a relationship between increased reward leading to increased performance. That's a pretty fundamental part of the humanist movement which predates the French and American Revolutions (Liberté, égalité, fraternité! or Americans might prefer Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness). Even then, Humanism was merely the popularization and egalitarian movement to provide for everyone the model which the wealthy and elite have been following since at least the time of Aristotle!

Put succinctly, this guy isn't describing the Open Source movement, he's describing at least 2500 years of Academia. You pay people a tenured salary, because they, free of concerns regarding economic security, will produce works for the benefit of all.

And this is telling for two reasons. First, Academia is not free from woe and misery. Second, and i would hope that Economists would realize this, just because you have (partially) removed monetary incentives, does not mean that there is no currency or economics in Academia. The reason why the "Publish or Perish" mentality exists, is because it's what's used to differentiate academics. Academics trade on their reputation, and their reputation is measured based on publication.

I think any attempt to further our common understanding should be welcome. clearly previous attempt didn't work very well because this video is news for most people who have seen it.
I certainly don't deny any such attempt. But i think that again it's a bit naive to say that things like this are new, and ignore historical precedent. I think that self-actualization and being able to determine the course of one's life is important, especially for work (i certainly wouldn't be able to live any other way). But treating that as a panacea for misery in the work place, or saying that it'd address the ethical lapses of places like Wall Street is naive or perhaps disingenuous.

I'm not knocking the message, i'm knocking the delivery and lack of context.

It is true that this is pretty much meant to be a populized presentation but I would say it's still quite interesting (at least, for a non-psychologist). It does pack quite alot in a short and entertaining video :)

Also, I don't think Maslow's Heararchy of Needs really explains why people perform worse when they are paid more. According to it, shouldn't paying more just stop making much of a difference after a certain point?

Jun 06, 2010 · 2 points, 1 comments · submitted by georgecmu
everything else is irrelevant, the key lie with autonomy, mastery and purpose. have these values in your workplace and startup, it will really people to work.
May 30, 2010 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by shadow
May 27, 2010 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by epi0Bauqu
Reminds me of Dan Pink's presentation on what motivates people:

It seems to me that the only piece missing from the current system is the ability to fire bad teachers.

I'm generally pro-union, but I believe unions do themselves a disservice by propping up bad teachers from legitimate dismissal as well as protecting good teachers from unfair treatment.

Not to be pithy, but I'd be more interested in the ability to fire bad parents.

Even a weak teacher can guide a class of students through the chapters of a textbook. Sure, the kids would learn a lot more from a good teacher, but they are shaped far more by their peers. Crummy parents produce rotten kids, who slow the class down, cause disruptions and set bad examples. Furthermore, there are many talented teachers who are poor baby sitters.

May 18, 2010 · 293 points, 41 comments · submitted by zacharyvoase
Perhaps the reason most economic approaches fail to predict this kind of behaviour is because they forget that money by itself is not a motivator—it’s only ever a means to an end for all who use it.

Money gives you the freedom to make choices and spend time doing other things—the autonomy and mastery that Dan Pink was talking about. However, earning more money but being stuck in the same job renders this increase in salary effectively useless, because you don’t stand to gain any satisfaction simply by having the money.

It would be interesting to see if in the companies that have a "culture of quitting", money is an additional motivator. $20k worth of crap isn't that exciting, but a year's runway is.

This might shed light on whether this is about a mistaken identification of money with value, or if people value the present that much more than the future. The latter would be more profound.

Unfortunately, those companies either already basically pay enough (e.g. Google), or they're startups where giving employees more money than necessary is almost certainly the wrong thing to do.

It’s worth mentioning that the underlying concept is Marginal Utility:
I'm pretty sure I disagree with the moral. Does anyone really contribute to Wikipedia for the sense of mastery it gives them? Do you think the NSA releases their Linux kernel patches to increase the agency's autonomy? Do you think that most open source and free culture advocates are altruists motivated by a drive to give their stuff away to other people? No, they do it because it improves the world they live in - for them. Enlightened self-interest is still self-interest.

Also, the dissing on economists just rubs me the wrong way.

Quite so. It's sometimes easy to forget that making the world a better place can still be a very selfish act. Consider the man living in a world he hates, with all the money in the world, vs. a man living in a world he enjoys, with comparatively less individual wealth. In a very real sense the 2nd man is better off. A lot of this has become baked into the cultural DNA of the west. Cooperation pays dividends. Today's J. Average Middle-class Everyman living in the 1st world is much, much better off than very nearly every king, despot, prince, and emperor throughout history.
> It's sometimes easy to forget that making the world a better place can still be a very selfish act.

If only those people would not try to impose their morality on other people, that would truly make the world a better place. Unfortunately some things we never learn.

> Cooperation pays dividends

Only if you're collaborating with the right people. On the other hand you can get screwed pretty badly ... by people who either steal your work, claiming it as their own, or by people that don't appreciate you (which is a problem when willfully collaborating because that's when you have an inflated ego).

> making the world a better place can still be a very selfish act

You sound like such selfness is actually concious. I don't think so. We're not Machiavellian machines, gauging the consequences of each of our deeds. For example, I bet most Wikipedia contributors don't especially want to help building the world's most comprehensive encyclopaedia, but just want to share a bit of their knowledge, or just don't like to see spelling errors.

I believe he was referring to those who built and those who currently maintain Wikipedia. It is likely that those individuals set out not motivated by money but for some ideology, a "dent" in the universe.

I would assume the NSA releases their Linux kernel because the license compels them to. I could be wrong. Maybe it is a trap.

Most open source and free culture advocates are _self_ motivated by a drive to give their stuff away to other people. The entire talk is about self interest, completely the other side of the planet from altruism. It sounds like you actually agree with what he is saying but are entangling entangling money and self-interest in precisely the common way this talk seeks to dismiss.

This is one of the best books I've read. As an entrepreneur, it will get you to think differently on how you motivate people. Before, I use to think that if I pay a person to do a task that should be sufficient. Now, I encourage purpose and deliver a vision. You would be amazed at how easy it is to 'rally the troops' by doing this.

Read this book now.

I have had this book on my shelf for a few months now, yet I had never read it, nor really planned on it.

That's different now, I will try to start tonight.

I apologize for sounding ignorant, but what is the book?

Edit: Got it. Thanks.

Strongly agree. The book is a quick read and has broad implications. I worked with the author (Daniel Pink) to create a mobile app based on the book. Daniel is a great guy who lives what he writes.

Plug: the app is free and called "Dan the Motivation Roo" currently on Android only

Aww, man. I wanted it to pan out and show the whole mural at the end.
I wonder if the whole would make sense or just be a big haphazard mess with only local coherence?...
Hmm, well, someone could make one by taking screenshots at the appropriate times and then stitching them together.
Beautiful presentation of a presentation! If you are like me and usually just scan the comments of HN, don't miss this one!
The lecture sounded really familiar - from here:
I thought I had seen this before. I remembered some candle/tacks/box task. I believe it was this TED video.
What a great way to watch a lecture
Does anybody have any idea which software was used to create the RSA animated series?
At the end of the video it says images were done by "cognitive media". Here's a link to that company:
It seems plausible that it was done by hand and then sped up to match the speed of the talk.
Somewhat related video from Paul Solman at PBS Newshour, on motivation and money:

(An interview with Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future)

I wish they had ended it with a shot of the whole board at once - Or maybe even just zoomed slowly out...
Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational, presents research that speaks to this issue from another angle: that we perform better at tasks framed in social norms (help a friend) vs tasks (even the same task!) done simply for money.
Money is overrated. Time is undervalued. However, not everyone wants to make a contribution. And high incentives can improve the perfomance of people who wants a collateral reward of money like social status.
"And high incentives can improve the perfomance of people who wants a collateral reward of money like social status."

Do you have any science to back that up?

great video, almost makes one stressed looking to see if that hand will keep up with the talk though...
If what he says is true, then that means Diaspora will fail, because of the huge amount of funding they got.
No, for a simple reason: they already got the money. If this money would be delivered only upon some milestone of the project, I would have agreed.

The fact is, once the funding round is finished, once they actually start to work, they will receive naught. On the contrary, money had been put out of the equation, at least for a time. And their very first motivation wasn't money. It was Eben Moglen's talk[1]. Pure idealism.

Four geeks in their proverbial garage set out do destroy an evil corporation is exactly the right kind of incentive. They have independence, they probably seek mastery, and they have a purpose. Sure, they could become greedy and just want to get rich like an americally dreamt start-up founder, but I think this is unlikely.

Failure will come from another factors, if at all.


> And their very first motivation wasn't money. It was Eben Moglen's talk[1]. Pure idealism.

If you believe in pure idealism, then you must also believe in Santa Claus.

> Four geeks in their proverbial garage set out do destroy an evil corporation is exactly the right kind of incentive

Even in the open-source world, people don't brag about their pet projects until they've got at least a preliminary design to show.

I like developers that deliver ... like Linus, when he was criticized for Bitkeeper, he came out of nowhere with Git.

You will note that you didn't contradict me at all. Let me repeat: the Diaspora founders have independence (the proverbial garage and the financial relief). They also probably seek mastery (they are techno-geeks). Finally, they have a purpose (destroying the busness model of Facebook, as advocated by Eben Moglen).

Now, on to your points:

> Even in the open-source world, people don't brag about their pet projects until they've got at least a preliminary design to show. I like developers that deliver

I actually agree with that. This is of course a major point against Diaspora. That said, I doubt they expected such a buzz. Don't forget my primary point: their incentives increases the odds of success. I didn't talk about the initial odds.

> If you believe in pure idealism, then you must also believe in Santa Claus.

I'm not sure I get your meaning. I just said that their primary motivation was a purely idealistic one. As told in the submitted video, idealism is one of the most efficient incentives. The thing is, he called that "purpose", which cleverly avoids the negative connotation of "idealism".

The negative connotation of "idealism" worries me, because we need idealism. For instance, you surely know that exponential growth, continued exploitation of the south, systematic destruction of the soil just can't go one forever. They will stop, one way or another. To put it bluntly, our civilization as we know it won't last.

Now, I see two ways our civilization could change:

(1) We continue to prefer short term maximization over long term planning. We rush to deplete the remaining resources. We continue to over-exploit and destroy our soil. A major biologic crisis ensues (that one has already started, by the way). Humanity starves and go back to a pre-feudal state, or falls prey to an oligarchy and eat Soylent Green.

(2) We think long term. We cooperate. We use the remaining oil to bootstrap renewable energies. We take care of our soil. The biologic crisis is mitigated. Humanity mostly lives in the countryside, and eats organic crops.

I'm probably wrong about the details, but the main point remain: our civilization will eventually change drastically. We could make the transition smooth and painless, or we can let it be sudden and nasty. Our choice.

The "Back to the Future" bit at 7:05 or so was very funny.

I was kind of skeptical to watch a video with content I had already seen as a TED talk and nearly clicked back before it started. Once it started, I was immediately engaged, and reading parts of the talk satisfied a certain part of my brain.

Yeah-- I was just thinking that if every lecture in school was this way, how could I not stay engaged and absorb it?
Because if every lecture was that way, then that style would be the norm, and therefore almost by definition you probably wouldn't be engaged, just as you aren't engaged to the norm now, and seek out unique and interesting—novel things.
Sal Khan gave an interesting hypothesis about why his lectures were more engaging (he uses a blackboard) than a traditional one with a person in the front. I recommend watching the video, but his point is that we tend to focus on the person, the movement of the hands. When you remove the person, you're sort of left with a voice inside your head explaining stuff.

Thank you for posting this! I went on his youtube channel to see what it's all about and I ended up watching the first 7 lessons in Biology... and I had 3 or 4 "gotchas" that I never got in school... man this is fun. I'm sure to continue watching this stuff. I want to watch it all!
Every reason he described there is pertinent to this video. Thanks so much for posting this, I don't know why I skipped it when it made its rounds the other day.
That's ridiculous -- there are plenty of aspects of my life that are in some sense "the norm" that I still find very engaging. Novelty is a component of interestingness, sure, but it's far from the only one.

This presentation is more compelling to me than a traditional lecture in many ways; its novelty really plays a fairly minor role in the difference. (YMMV, of course, but don't put words in my [or the GP's] mouth.)

For you to say that, you probably didn't share the same experience I did.

Surely there's some aspect that is norm versus unique, but that's not what kept me watching it to the very end. If that's all it was, I would have stopped watching halfway through (as the uniqueness wore off).

No-- instead, the presentation style held my attention the entire time. And this is for a talk that I had already heard previously. It was stronger than one of those unfortunately placed TVs at a restaurant playing something colorful, this drew my attention and held it even though I would have typically moved on much sooner.

Perhaps no one else had the same reaction to it as I did, but I don't think I'd easily tire of lectures being presented with this kind of quality. Just my $.02.

When I was a teacher I learned about different learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc. It turns out most people are visual. Seeing the presentation is easier for most people to absorb than simply hearing it.
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