Business > M&M


Published: October 16, 2010

No, not the candy...Money and Management.

Both have been around for roughly a century and a half in America. The Treasury started printing US currency in 1862. The body of knowledge that is now called Management began within a decade of that time. I don't see this as a coincidence. If you don't have one, you don't need the other.

The best definition I have for Management is "A system of techniques developed to get people into compliance." Money is one such tool, at least for the lesser folks walking this planet.

In the Government, money still works for some workers, but in a rather twisted way. The people it works for are those I classify as OPFC's (Over Promoted File Clerks). These people start with a physical task (filing) and then get promoted based on learning the 3 P's. None of those three are Performance. No, they learn Politics (how to make co-workers look worse), Personnel (how to get credit in the system by learning the key phrases vice learning the skills they represent) and finally Per Diem. They learn how to extract maximum value from travel by utilizing tips such as this one I recently heard "if you microwave a day old donut for 20 seconds, you can eat it." This really is the apex of economic thought for the OPFC's out there. How can I do as little as possible while getting "the system" to give me as much as possible. In this case, we are really motivating people we don't want motivated. But they are with us, and always have been.

I do have to wonder what money hungry people did before money was invented. The genetic forefathers of our current money chasers have been with us forever, I think. I don't believe that aliens delivered printing presses and money chasing mutants on the same trip.

A number of folks have researched just what motivates people. Daniel Pink just wrote a book on that topic. He found that at the low level, where people are doing a mindless task like turning a crank, they will crank more and better for more money. But other than crank turners (and file clerks), money doesn't really motivate performance.

This is particularly true for head work. People who use their intellect at work are least motivated by money, after a point. That point is where they have enough to live. Survey in Great Britain earlier this year show that people who made the equivalent of $75,000 a year were the happiest. After that people became more miserable as they chased money. This is validated by New York Stock traders. One broker used to have a conversation about the 'number'. He did this on the drive home from work over the years with his fellow brokers. The 'number' answered the question "How much would you need to quit this job?" Every year the 'number' went up. For those people who have the money addiction, they never have enough. And they are never happy.

What Pink found were other factors that motivates minds. His triumvirate of motivators are autonomy, mastery and purpose. So let me talk about these a bit.

Autonomy- This is an anathema to the factory mindset. The factory approach of the 19th and 20th century saw people as an extension of the machine they were working on. Hence the invention of management techniques to manipulate people to comply with the process. Rewarding people with cash for being compliant worked as long as people didn't make enough to be comfortable (and as long as they were doing physical tasks). But in 2010 in the US, our standard of living has improved dramatically. The exact improvement is hard to quantify. But in 2010 we are not living 20% better or 50% better than 1900, it is 2000% to 3000%. The average citizen today is living better than the country club crowd of 1900. Much, much better in fact. Our standard of living has improved that much. But now that the quality of life has risen that far, people by and large are not motivated the way they once were. An engineer at Apple is not going to have management applied to him so he can comply with an edict to invent the next great device. No, he'll work from his office, he'll work from home, he'll be thinking about the problem on his surfboard. And then in the end, you will have a new device in your hand. It may be way cool or it may be a risk that didn't quite make it...but in general, autonomy is motivating America's head workers to produce the next great thing.

Mastery- This is the one you see every weekend. I was out running through Balboa Park this morning at 7 AM and saw a number of guys out there practicing their disc golf at the local course. There is absolutely no money in this sport. They are not going to go on tour. They are just a couple local guys who are serious about mastering the game.I'm doing the same thing myself with the classes I just started taking. I know I'll never make any money in my hobbies, but I start a new one about every six months and I move towards mastery in each of them. There is a reward in simply being better at something than you were yesterday. Even if it is Latin Dancing or Beer Pong or Disc Golf. This really does drive people.

Purpose- This one goes back to the guy turning the crank. While that person will crank for more money, if they find out one day that the crank is attached to nothing, even they will stop. Nearly everything we do in life by choice has some purpose. There is nothing worse than "make work" and "time kills", though this seems to be the premise for many cable TV channels. The purpose issue is what drives the volunteer efforts in this country. My brother has spent two weekends this year volunteering to support endurance races. His purpose is to further a sport he loves. Skilled researchers are out there cranking out Wikipedia articles. Skilled programmers are keeping Linux alive for free. There is a world for of people who will work for free, if they have a purpose (and enough money to live on.)

I will give M&M their due. They have gotten us to where are today. They were the tools that took us through the last 150 years. But I think they are past their expiration dates in many ways.

The problem with management is simply this. The only thing people care about in a "managed system" is the manager. It is purely top down, everyone tries to make the boss happy with the thought that maybe more money will come their way. It worked well for factories...but we don't run factories much any more. We provide services and make new devices. And the providers and designers don't respond well to being managed. Yet managers keep trying management because, you know, it worked for for them 150 years.

All managed organization end up looking the same. They ultimately are built to please the boss. A recent article on Harvard pointed that out. Right now a Harvard undergraduate education is a joke. Harvard still hires the best professors, but they don't teach. Teaching is delegated to part timers and contract workers. The rock star professors publish and do research and make the upper management look good. They don't do anything for the consumer of a Harvard education. Eventually you can see where that will lead, empty headed graduates with a hallow degree.

My thought is that the only reason we are still in the game on the global stage is this. We have enough smart people out there ignoring management that we can still function well. One of our admin people clued me in to this as I started my most recent job. Her guidance went something like this "When the managers start rambling on about something you know is nonsense, just nod and smile, then go do what you know needs to be done." I won't say that across the board our economy is surviving on the backs of people smart enough to ignore the folks who have been kicked upstairs into management, but I think most workers can relate to this vignette.

I'm not writing the Rise and Fall of the American Empire quite yet, I'm just saying that when that book does get written, I think M&M is going to get a chapter.

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