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Totally simplistic and unconvincing
on April 20, 2008
Mr Coonradt's premise is that people are motivated to work well when they can keep score against very straightforwardly measurable goals. To bolster this argument, Conraadt points to what people do in their leisure time, claiming that people like and are motivated to do their leisure activities more than their work because score keeping and measurement in these leisure activities is very simple. He also claims that people who don't concentrate on their scores -- and in particular how they measure up against other people -- are "losers".
One clear problem with this argument is that the book totally and absolutely ignores the fact that many people the world over spend their precious leisure time engaged in activities where "scoring" and objective measurement doesn't even enter into the equation. think of artistic endeavors -- surely a very important area of human activity! In many aspects of arts (most?) scoring and measurement don't have a place at all -- is Van Gogh measurably better than Cezanne? Indeed, that very kind of thinking is anathema to artistic creation. Or think of the hobbies of reading, playing music, listening to music, watching plays, watching dance, painting, photography, etc. etc. etc. Why do people engage in these activities with such dedication when there is no measuring or scoring of any sort going on? Even if you grant the author his sports-myopic-vision, there are many sporting activities where scoring isn't important to the majority of participants, or isn't present at all -- fishing, sailing, kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, etc etc etc. Granted some people do these "non-scoring" sports in scoring settings.... but I would argue the vast majority of participants do not. There are far more recreational trail riders than there are grand prix show jumpers or racing jockeys: there are far more people who just "putter" in their boats than people who race competitively.
So, really the author's argument largely applyies only if you limit your thinking to a subset of sporting activity (itself a subset of what he should in fact be looking at and examining) and ignore the characteristics of a broad swath of the activities that humans in fact find deeply satisfying. He's focused on a very, very limited slice of life and basically writes-off people who are motivated by things other than simple scores.
Meanwhile, many companies provide their employees with very clear score-keeping parameters and the jobs involved are miserable (I've had experience of that myself in spades!!). Bottom line: when I applied this book's arguments to myself and what I have seen in my 20 year career -- what I find rewarding, what jobs I've found most satisfying, the environments and practices that make people thrive -- the arguments just didn't ring true to me. It certainly would be very comforting to think that constructing a rewarding, highly productive and humane work environment could be this simple -- that there's a magic bullet like this -- but I think how humans approach jobs and how we respond to work environments are just like everything else in human life -- complex and, at times, bewildering. And it also seems to me that American business in these times needs more of the kind of complex, nuanced analysis and judgment that belong in the sphere of the arts rather than the simple score-keeping of football or baseball. There are many good business books out there that acknowledge that and give better advice on how to navigate this area.