Barry Schwartz

The Problem With Motivation

My answer is always the same - you may get want you want in the short term, but everyone will lose out in the long therm. It’s the problem with motivation.

At every parenting seminar that I lead someone will ask, in a fretful voice, “Is it ok if I bribe my kids?” There is always some level of hesitation; the parents feel that, even though it sometimes seems to work, something is not quite right. And yet they think it can’t be all bad. Can it?

It never fails - the next question, after I give the reason why, is, “Well, then, how do I motivate my kids?”

It is basically the same question that I got as a guest speaker in a college class on project management: “How do I motivate my coworkers when they are not working up to expectations?”

You can’t. It’s the problem with motivation.

The Paradox of Responsibility

My wife and I were going for a walk the other day and noticed that there was a lot of trash along the sidewalk and in the undergrowth. This is also the same path that a lot of teenagers use to walk to and from high school. My first thought was, “What a bunch of irresponsible kids that can’t hang onto their trash until they got home.” Honestly, it was probably my second and third thought as well. Eventually i got to thinking, “Does it make me irresponsible if I see trash that I know should be picked up but I don’t do it, even if it isn’t mine?”

That thought obviously disturbed me more than the first one, so I thought I should explore what it really means to be responsible and why it’s important. Responsibility and accountability are terms that are kicked around a lot, but I’m not sure if we really understand what we are talking about or when it should be meaningful. I certainly want other people to be responsible; it’s easy to take a moral high ground and point out how their irresponsibility is ruining their lives and my own. But I am not so sure about it when other people are holding me responsible. I am not sure exactly what I should be accountable for anyway.