Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Does Money Serve as an Effective Motivator for Certain Types of Work, But Not Others?


Does money serve as a more effective motivator for certain types of work, but not others? That is the fundamental question explored by scholars in a recent working paper. Pamela Osborn Popp, Ben Newell, Daniel Bartels, and Todd Gureckis have written a paper titled, "Can Cognitive Discovery Be Incentivized With Money?" They conducted six experiments. In the first five experiments, they asked research subjects to examine a set of items. The participants had to determine how the items might be categorized sensibly into groups and then assign them appropriately. The scholars describe this task as "rule discovery" work. In the sixth experiment, the subjects engaged in "rule implementation" work. In that study, the scholars told the subjects what the categorization process should be, and the participants simply had to apply that criteria. 

The scholars found that money proved to be an effective motivator in the sixth experiment, but not in the previous five studies. The scholars conclude that tasks requiring creativity, insight, and discovery are quite cognitively challenging, and they depend on both attention and working memory.   They write  that "the results suggest that performance in tasks which require novel inductive insights are relatively immune to financial incentive, while tasks that require rote perseverance of a fixed strategy are more malleable."  

The researchers note that tasks in the workplace don't fall simply into these two categories though.  There's most likely a spectrum that stretches from the highly rote work to the extremely cognitively challenging tasks require high degrees of creativity.   Moreover, our work often involves some combination of these types of tasks.  Finally, the scholars remind us that this study focused strictly on one form of monetary incentive.  Non-monetary incentives may have different effects. 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Why Do We Miss Key Opportunities?

Why do we miss key opportunities at times in our careers?  Sometimes, it may have to do with the type of opportunity we encounter.  Suppose we have to decide whether to pursue a course of action which could have a positive outcome, but it has a very low probability of a successful result.  Harvard's Emily Prinsloo and her co-authors have published an interesting new paper exploring what they call "opportunity neglect."   Through a series of studies, they show that individuals  systematically fail to take advantage of low-probability opportunities, even when the costs of an unsuccessful outcome are quite low.   In fact, they demonstrate that, "people are even willing to incur costs to opt out of low-probability opportunities."   

Why do people fail to take advantage of these opportunities?   Perhaps, we anticipate the emotions that we will experience if we fail, and we are trying to avoid those negative feelings.  We might not only worry about how we are going to feel, but about how others will perceive us if we don't achieve a successful outcome.  

The question is:  Are we over-estimating the negative repercussions of an unsuccessful outcome?  Do we anticipate the negative emotions lasting much longer than they actually will?  Are we exaggerating the reputational hit we might take if we don't succeed?  

In writing about this research for BPS Digest, Emma Young recalls the famous Wayne Gretzky quote: ”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”   Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that pursuing stretch goals is worthwhile.  In fact, there may be a great deal of fulfillment associated with taking on big challenges.  Moreover, we should recall what Daniel Pink wrote about in his excellent book, The Power of Regret.  Pink notes that people tend to experience more regret in life about paths they did not pursue than actions they undertook.   

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Learning on the Job: Do We Learn and Develop Faster with In-Person Collaboration?

Source:  https://www.myworldofwork.co.uk

Do we learn more from in-person collaborators than remote teammates?  That question has been top of mind for many people over the past few years.   Much of the dialogue about this question has not been evidence-based though.  It's been highly anecdotal.   Recently, however, I read about some fascinating research on the topic. 

Frank van der Wouden and Hyejin Youn analyzed more than 17 million academic publications over decades to address the question of whether local collaboration generates more learning than remote collaboration.  The scholars wanted to identify each researcher who collaborated with someone outside their discipline and later published a sole-authored paper in that new domain.  That later publication would indicate that the researcher had learned a great deal from this collaborator outside his or her original field of expertise.  Youn and van der Wouden compared the learning rate for those who collaborated locally vs. at a distance.   They found that the learning rate of local collaborators exceeded that of distant collaborators, with a particularly substantial impact in areas such as chemistry and engineering.  

Moreover, Youn explained why the impact of local collaboration was greater for people early in their careers: “That’s understandable, because early in your career, you still need to acquire knowledge, and you have to be present to do that when knowledge isn’t yet codified. It’s like riding a bicycle. You can’t learn how to ride a bicycle by reading a paper.”

The study covered the period from 1975-2018. Therefore, some will argue that we have much better tools for virtual collaboration today, and we have become more adept at remote interaction.  As a result, they will conclude that we cannot draw far-reaching conclusions from this study.  That may be true, but it still warrants consideration and certainly indicates that we need further study of the topic for the more recent period of time.  The finding about young people is of particular interest to me.  What do these findings mean for how we bring new workers into the fold early in their career? What should onboarding and apprenticeship look like in those early years?  How will they learn and develop most effectively?  We've been thinking a great deal about what type of work can be done best remotely vs. in-person.  We should also be thinking carefully about the stage of each person's career and how that impacts our decisions about in-person vs. remote collaboration.  

Friday, February 02, 2024

Fighting Back Against Becoming Insular & Isolated

Source: www.cleartouch.com

Leaders love to talk about customer obsession.  They often highlight it as a value they cherish.  They encourage others to put the customer first.   Yet, all too often, they don't walk the talk.   Far too many organizations are quite insular in their thinking.  People focus an overwhelming amount of their time and attention on internal processes and procedures.   Executives become buried in staff meetings, and they become isolated from customers, markets, front-line employees, and external partners.    How can we fight back against becoming too insular in our thinking?  It's about more than just building in some scheduled time to visit with customers.  Here are a few tips:

1.  Walk a mile in the customer's shoes from time to time.   Don't just ask customers what they think; actually put yourself into their situation.  What is it like to purchase your product or service?  What are the pain points and frustrations of your customers? 

2.  Open your eyes when you travel and look for the unexpected.  When we drive to work each day, traveling the same route, we are usually on auto pilot.  We don't have to think much, and we often don't notice much along our path.  When we travel, our minds are more alert, and we have to think a bit more about where we are going and how to get there.   Use these travel opportunities to notice the differences between your home city or country and the place you are visiting.  What is different about consumer preferences?  What cultural differences stand out to you?  What local competitors are behaving in interesting new ways?  How might these factors influence your business?

3.  Study organizations outside your industry.   Don't just remain laser focused on the 3-5 major rivals with whom you compete each day.  Find interesting companies, far and wide, from which you can learn.   What interesting practices are they employing?   How have they overcome challenges similar to those you face? 

4.  Go out and recruit new talent on college campuses.  Don't just send your front-line human resources staff members, or your young workers who are alumni from those schools.   Send some more senior leaders to those colleges.  Encourage them to interact with the young people and ask them questions, rather than just providing information about your company. Find out what they care about, how they view your organization, and what they think about your products and services. 

5.  Encourage a few people on your team to role play the competition when you are making a big decision.  Ask them to really study how your rivals think and act, and then encourage them to propose how your rivals will react to your decision.  

6.  Read voraciously, but don't just read the business news and a few books relevant to your industry.  Read more broadly, and keep a journal reflecting on what you have learned.