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And how does that make you feel?

September 21, 2010
Dirty Jobs

Image via Wikipedia

Gonna give the bats in the belfry a little shake, watch out for flying guano.

For my Online PR course, I had to give a presentation on the third chapter of the book we’re reading, Cognitive Surplus, by Clay Shirky. I’ve enjoyed the book so far, it’s a fairly good opinion piece about how Americans now have an excess of free time and how most of us seem to be compelled to spend that time sitting on our ever-expanding derrieres and watching life flicker by on the idiot box. By the way, this book may have been written about me specifically, I’m checking the walls of my living room for hidden cameras.

The chapter I presented is titled “Motive.” An ironic chapter for me to discuss, considering my general lack of motivation at any given time. Shirky explains the nature of how Americans are stimulated to begin or finish a project. Do we respond to extrinsic stimuli (cash/paycheck/barter) or are we pushed by intrinsic motives (the sense of accomplishment or cause)? Shirky doesn’t offer any suggestion as to what percentage of people lack intrinsic motivation, but my guess is that the extrinsic is far greater.

In my case, thank God I was blessed by the arrival of The Boy two years ago. My son’s presence seems to have kick-started my butt from neutral into 1st gear, though I’m hardly channeling the ethos of Leonardo daVinci, Bill Gates, the hard-working people you see on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, my buddy Kurt Fitzpatrick or my wife. Lord, please let The Boy be imbued with his mother’s work ethic, a dash of my rapier wit, and my parents’ compassion.

Preparing for my presentation required me to think a lot about what motivates me. I’m afraid that it looks as though the extrinsic far outweighs the intrinsic. For instance, writing homework assignments. I figure I’ve written about 1,000 articles in my professional career and I’ve been paid for all of them. This has completely jaded me as to how and when I choose to write. I know I need to hand in written assignments to pass my courses and I have an enormous Master’s thesis looming in the next few months, but since none of that directly affects my income, it gets a little hard to find the motivation to put finger to keyboard.

This is a scenario that Shirky brings up in his book. He notes the 1970 studies of Edward Deci and how he surmised that once paid for a service, people were less likely to actively complete a task without the promise of cash at the end of the project. It would seem that I may fall into this category.

It is also just as likely that I, and many of my fellow Americans, are simply lazy and would prefer to watch reruns of shows we’ve seen for the last 10 years than routinely interact with others on a project.

I suspect it may be a combination of the two, with a few other factors sprinkled in.

Here’s what I know, when my back is to the wall I get motivated. When I have the yearly opportunity to work on the 48 Hour Film Project in Philadelphia with the rest of the Meatball Posse, I get motivated. When family and friends specifically ask me to help on a project, I get motivated. And at all other times, I’m stuck in neutral.

Okay, that may have been a tad dramatic, after all, I am working on a graduate degree, I do try to be a good husband and father, and I do have a job. So maybe I’m not nearly as unmotivated as I think I am. But I suspect a little extra motivation wouldn’t kill me, and I think most of the people reading this blog would say the same about themselves.

So let’s agree to try and stay motivated. Maybe find at least one activity we can do on a regular basis that doesn’t involve a TV, couch and snacks. Who knows, we may actually accomplish something. Perish the thought.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    September 22, 2010 6:57 AM

    I think I am going to frame this one…and hang it on the dining room wall next to the wedding quote we got from Karen.

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