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Rants, Raves, Interesting Science & Awful Puns
April 8, 2005


The Greatest Motivator

I receive a fairly regular input of mail concerning the moneyless economic systems described in Voyage from Yesteryear, with its world of people descended from ancestors who had never been exposed to the social conditioning of conditioned human adults, and again in the Kronian colony established among Saturn's moons in Cradle of Saturn and its sequel The Anguished Dawn, in which the motivation that drives people stems from achieving competence and contributing to results of worth. Some readers find such a notion idyllic and want to share thoughts on all kinds of refinements and details, while others hold that it might be a nice idea but could never work in practice. I'm told that the subject has sparked some lively Internet debates.

Many years ago I read an intriguing book by Paul Goodman entitled Growing Up Absurd (1956), which states at one point that, "[T]rue satisfaction comes from doing useful work." How very true. In my earlier years as an electronics development engineer on a fixed monthly salary, I remember working many late evenings and sometimes entire weekends in the lab regardless, spurred purely by the desire to see a job brought as close to perfection as circumstances permitted. Companies must love people like us on their staffs. It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder at times about your sanity, until you come across a piece like Ron Avitzur's The Graphing Calculator Story that tells how he would sneak into his former employer's premises after his project had been terminated to work unpaid and with the surreptitious help of other engineers and programmers, simply to see brought to a reality the performance that he knew was possible--not thanks to management, but in spite of it. Or, in his own words:

I view the events as an experiment in subverting power structures. I had none of the traditional power over others that is inherent to the structure of corporations and bureaucracies. I had neither budget nor headcount. I answered to no one, and no one had to do anything I asked. Dozens of people collaborated spontaneously, motivated by loyalty, friendship, or the love of craftsmanship. We were hackers, creating something for the sheer joy of making it work.

A wonderful testimony that for all-round excellence of results, and to build of the kind of society people want to live in, fear and money have to be among the worst of motivators.

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