Strange Motivations

This post is related to Jeff Atwood’s latest post where he quite honestly explains his views on StackOverflow and StackOverflow Exchange. I did watch the animated video by Dan Pink at the end of the post, its absolutely fascinating. All this is based on the research done at top universities in the US. Bright people huh. It all works well there and the theory is proven.

I tried to place Dan’s theory in the context where I work. Whether I like it or not, I have been working for Service based firms most of my career until now. And I cannot be more frank in saying that, when a service based firm grows and has like thousands of folks working on something or the other, not all of them are “bright”. Well as a matter of fact, this is a very very rare commodity. When I say bright, I do not mean someone who can crack NP-Incomplete problems or like that, I mean folks who love their work (I am mostly concerned with coding), like to do their own stuff sometimes, share knowledge with others and other things that comes in a package of a good developer. With this knowledge, I am highly doubtful that the incentives theory would work here. The theory says something like this,

As long as the work to be done is mechanical, incentives improve the performance of individuals, but the moment you introduce some work which requires even rudimentary cognitive skills, incentives actually work the other way.

I believe this theory when put in the context of software, assumes you have good people working for you. Dan gives an example of Atlassian, which probably hires good people only. I have come across many folks here who openly say I am here jsut for the freakin money, don care much about creative stuff and all that bullshit. The idea Atlassian uses certainly must be bringing the best out of the people there, as long as people intend to do so. We could argue that the reason this might not work here is, most of the work coming to the Indian Service firms is MECHANICAL. All the algorithms are defined, architecture is laid out, just write the freakin code. Hence more money, more performance works. So the first part of the theory does hold true in this sense. But to prove the other part of the theory, you need good people, period. Service based firms consider each one of us as a RESOURCE, parts of a machine, which can be replaced by someone and things would work as usual.

This is by no means, service firms bashing, but all I want to say is theories which have used a certain class of people as experiments, might not work across all classes. Now do not ask why am I still working for a Service based firm!


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