Friday, November 6, 2009

Money as incentive

I watched this last night ("How open source projects survive poisonous people") and it blew me away. At about thirteen and a half minutes in, Brian Fitzpatrick (the other presenter is Ben Collins-Sussman) tells the following story:

"Ben and I worked in a different company where we dealt with different clients and we said, you know, 'yeah, you should use this method where people can write consistent log messages.' And this guy said, 'I can't get my developers to write consistent log messages!' And our friend Carl just about choked on his own tongue, because, he's like, 'I have an open source project over here with about 35 UNPAID VOLUNTEERS, who follow this insanely detailed log message specification for EVERY check in that they do! So don't tell me that you have a problem with your paid developers, if I get the people coming off the internet for free to do this.'"

One of the most stubborn beliefs people have about money, is that you need its rewards and incentives to get unwanted work done. The above quote shows, as does open source software generally, that the quality of outcome, the passionate desire to do good work, is, at least at times, a better motivator than money, even within a capitalist system, in which we are bombarded day and night with a cultural message that preaches exactly the opposite. I find this incredible and profoundly inspiring.


PT2 said...

Thanks - a very helpful reminder. It has encouraged me to think more about how important personal pride of workmanship, as well as others esteem, is to day-to-day quality work in a science environment. Something to remember as I try to nudge higher levels of compliance and general perfromance from busy, distracted or sometimes recalcitrant staff.

Toby said...

Hi PT2,

sorry, I'm bad at this blogging thing. I get no mails that people have left comments even though I've entered my email in the box that's supposed to do that. So hence my somewhat late response.

Thanks for posting, and glad to have been of some assistance! The hard part of motivating people within a pay situation is that they are there, typically, because they have to be -- at least at particular times, on particular days etc. They don't have control over their time, which is quite an a big deal if you think about it. Volunteers are more likely to be working at a project out of passion and belief. Sadly, this seems to me to be an inescapable trap, but of course needs to be kept in mind.

Money is not as motivating as we tend to think it is. Hence my huge interest in resource-based economies, the only type of economy in which money is designed out.