Monday, August 09, 2010

this is how it works

Here is a fantastic animation which all of you should watch, even if I have already sent it to you twice. And here are some of the most interesting things it says:

For tasks which involve any sort of higher cognitive function, paying people more for them will decrease performance.

If you really want people to perform well at complex cognitive tasks, the thing to do is "pay them enough that they don't have to worry about money," and then incentivize them with autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

There's so much interesting in these few concepts that I can barely begin to unpack, but here's two things.

Escapism: From Harry Potter to Grey's Anatomy, from Pern to Stephen King to Lord of the Rings to Twilight, it seems to always offer a world where we can fantasize ourselves into lives of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Often in fantasy contexts mastery is about the main character's slow development of their unusual supernatural abilities; often in romance stories, the purpose given to the main character is simply to love and be loved.

In virtually all cases, autonomy is key; even if the characters we relate to are trapped in narrow and precarious situations, their unique abilities make their choices wider (or at least feel wider, because they are so different) than our own. If you find yourself constantly drawn to escapism (like I do), it seems like a fair bet that the characters you are reading about give you a much more satisfying sense of mastery, autonomy, and purpose than your own life.

Enoughness: I want to know what it means to pay people well enough that they don't have to worry about money. This is fantastically interesting to me, because I'm interested in human flourishing--in seeing people reach their potential--and understanding what kind of material support is needed in order for flourishing to happen seems paramount. Here's what I've come up with.

People will probably worry about money if they perceive that a lack of money is preventing them from having one or more of these things:



Medical care, including pain relief and some preventative care

Physical safety

Satisfying emotional self-expression

Opportunities for personal and professional growth; choices about livelihood. This includes needs like education, variety, and adventure.


A sense of belonging and respect in their community

Satisfying relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners and/or potential romantic partners

Opportunities for meaningful work, including the opportunity to raise children with resources they consider sufficient for the task

I have a theory that if people felt these needs were being met, necessity creep--people's rising standards of what material goods are essential to their existence--would be relatively easy to control. What do you all think?


Snow said...

I think it is rather imbued in human nature to want more than we have. I like your basic needs list, and I agree with you that those needs should be met. Obviously nobody should starve; definitely everybody deserves the chance for education and opportunities to develop skills/passions. I don't agree that meeting these needs will prevent people from wanting a private lake, an imported wine cellar, a beach body, etc. and doing what they can do get these things.

In other words, I believe in allowing everybody to have what they need, but I don't see how meeting needs will result in keeping greed/increased standards of living in check. Because I think we are talking about two different groups of people--I don't think helping poor people meet their needs will decrease rich people's excessive living. Unless, of course, we robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. But that opens a whole new can of worms.

Day said...

I don't think it will automatically result in keeping greed in check. I think it will make it easier to control. This assumes that we are interested in controlling it, which I think many (if not all)people are.

Have you ever seen the HALT exercise, for shopping? The idea is that before you buy something (eat something, waste time on something, etc.) you ask yourself, "am I doing this because I am hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?" And maybe you are--and maybe there's a better way to deal with that need.

This is basically the same premise. If someone is interested in controlling their own (inadvertent)greed, they can ask themselves:

What need am I trying to meet by doing this thing? Is it a healthy, legitimate need that I want to honor and sustain (like the ones listed)? Am I substituting something, like material goods or food for human connection? Do I have any better options? Is there a way I can meet this need that will be healthier for me and/or my community, or that would make a better use of resources?

Obvious times to ask yourself these questions would be, when you shop, and when you do your financial planning. However, I suspect they could come in handy at other times too, like when you're planning how to use your time.

I apologize for the post; I feel like it has some really good ideas, but it's not very clearly written. I'm way curious for feedback on this particular thing, so thank you muchly for commenting. :)