Driving toward Innovation


© Klassique_99 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Klassique_99 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Humans have drives–natural & social.

Our natural drives we may call our instincts for survival.

Our social drives we might refer to as our habits for success.

Obviously, in all things, there are times when natural & social impulses conflict. I will deal with that issue in a later blog.

Today I want to highlight a few easily read or watched entries that can open our eyes about being driven within our social framework.

The first item is an RSAnimation lecture with Dan Pink. In it, Pink details how he came to change his mind about the fashion in which we as a culture give incentives. Status quo tells us that the more monetary incentives a person is offered, the better that person will do at accomplishing goals. There will be more innovation, more commitment, more progress, etc.

Take a look see:

The important thing to take away from this short video is that “carrots” work best when doing routine work. Note that if being creative or thinking up new ideas was ROUTINE, they would not actually be “creative” or “innovative.” Something else drives us toward creativity & innovation:

  1. Challenge
  2. Mastery
  3. Making a Difference

As a philosopher, I find this to be a re-discovery. This structure of social achievement fits why the likes of a Socrates becomes the cipher for the Good Person in Plato. Old Sox is a master craftsman. He is challenged in his life not to be a stone mason–which was how he earned a living–but to contribute to the overall prosperity of his polis by challenging himself and others, by mastering the powers of thinking, and by the will to make a difference. We can see this repeating itself again & again throughout every civilization. [If you would like to explore this in a tad more depth, you can catch a longer lecture by Dan Pink by clicking here.]

Often wedded with the misunderstanding of how humans are driven is what I like to call 21st century sympathetic magic: the Power of Positive Thinking. Many folks have given themselves over to this mindset. If you keep your attitude not just positive but hyper-optomistic, you can literally remake the world through your own will. Now I am someone who tells folks not to wallow in self-pity. I recommend that folks do thought exercises in which they imagine themselves in different situations or having made different decisions in life. These are proper uses of what has been discovered within the realm of positive psychology. But moderation in all things folks.

Take a look at this RSAnimation with Barbara Ehrenreich:

This kind of thinking has become almost pathological. And it has contributed to some of our nation’s worst financial decisions. There can be no disagreement. There can be no real communicative exchange. I grant that listening to someone who is stuck in victimhood or spinning their wheels ever deeper into a pessimistic abyss is more than trying. Such a person can be off-putting to the max. But suggesting that things might not be going the way we “will” them to go through our “positive thinking” is not the same thing as being a negative nelly or a hyper-pessimist.

There are routine practices for training yourself to keep at it even when it takes time, energy, and more than a few failures to succeed. This breeds confidence to stay the course. This is not the same as a routinizing methodology of wishful thinking. “Positive thinking” as magic is the perfect partner for “monetary incentives” as drive.

Finally, I leave you with a pdf of Aldo Leopold’s “A Criticism of the Booster Spirit.” Written in 1923 when one of the founding figures of environmental conservation was the head of Albuquerque’s Chamber of Commerce, this short piece sets up a nice lens through which we can see the origins of that mentality that has come to dominate our economic decisions: “boosterism.” (You can see how boosterism is now playing out by looking at the NY Times interactive map of how much locales give away to “partner” with corporate businesses.)

The need to bring in more tourists, to bring in more corporate business, to bring in more… does this not seem a genuine condition for coming to believe that only the most positive of thoughts should ever be considered and that anybody will accomplish any goal if paid enough money?

What I would ask our political & business leaders to do is to think about alternatives that positively move us forward without succumbing to blind cheerleading, positive thinking, or monetary incentives. How can we better cultivate, curate, and care for our lives while attending to what is really happening, adjusting our attitudes, & acknowledging the opportunities that arise from being honest & honorable?

These are the questions of the Existential Entrepreneur.

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