Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry
"Teach them to crave fast data insight from the their analytics software for marketing campaigns" lacks the same sense of romance or moral imperative.
I'll acknowledge that's a bit tongue in cheek and not being charitable to the underlying point as it applies to day to day work, but I also think that this snark often applies to the "missions" that some/many Silicon Valley startups proclaim for enterprisey, salesey products, because I think those missions are a form of self-delusion about how much good you're really doing for society, as opposed to just making money because there's value to be captured.
I'm not sure what your specific role in the industry was. However while it may not have the same sense of romance or moral imperative as something else, it can still help rally great teams around causes. I've found people, particularly teams of data-driven marketers, can get quite excited when seeing a business grow directly because of insights they distilled from data. It's the feeling of making a tangible impact.
My response was mostly aimed at statements like one of 8ytecoder's examples: "Let's improve the accuracy of ad targeting so small businesses can reduce their spend but attract customers and grow". This is because the focus on small businesses is often a foil, and reality is much more morally ambiguous.
Actual small businesses are at the far end of the long tail. Very few companies primarily serve small businesses or primarily make their money from small businesses. In practice, in order of how much money is spent, the list goes: (1) large brands, (2) local/state franchises and political campaigns, (3) small businesses.
Most companies (Google/Facebook, for example) might coincidentally serve small businesses, but the real infrastructure and engineering investments are for the other two groups.
Small businesses tend to be the least sophisticated of the campaigns, because they honestly don't need much sophistication. Their numbers are too low to bring in real data science anyway, so it's more about being savvy at community presence. However, when you get to franchises and politics, the sophistication really kicks in.
Also, some of those small/medium businesses were for things like predatory lending companies. That realization made me stop and think for a moment about what "small business" actually meant.
Point being that I've seen and used (earnestly, at the time) small businesses as a sort moral foil while actually aspiring to develop technology for the other groups. And you believe it because you're paid to believe it.
In that context, trying to make it about the businesses you are serving (external validation) may not be as interesting to that person as making it about them finding the key to the optimization settings that unlocked growth for the team and business that is credited to them. Helping them celebrate via recognition or whatever else drives that individual can let them get more out of the win than they otherwise would have, and become more engaged in their role.
Feels like it's shining the light of attention at the spot most aligned with human desires, but usually at expense of shrouding the holistic goals (which might not be in interest of participants).
It might be true, but the framing could still be dishonest because the specific focus is often intended to distract from a less savoury whole. <3
"[REDACTED]'s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together."
"Our mission is to be Earth's most customer-centric company."
"[REDACTED]'s mission is to bring transportation—for everyone, everywhere."
Yeah, I do not know why but I do not feel very inspired by those ...
Not inspired by that? Is it too abstract? Asked another way, what kind of mission would inspire you? FYI I do agree with the general sentiment by munchbunny.
The mission statements mentioned, in order, correspond to:
Every time I buy in to some sort of corporate mission statement and believe it, I want to actually help get there.
If I'm being told to do something which obviously/patently won't get there - because I've done XYZ for 25 years and I know the ramifications/impact of these decisions, and I know they don't get us closer to "mission statement" - I want my input and direction to be heard/heeded. Not always 100% "do what he says", but... when you simply ignore my warnings, and my outcome happens... I lose interest in your "mission statement".
But of course truly believing something like that would make your life difficult. So you create stories for yourself, "missions".
I mean... I do believe that. I also believe fervently that all of humanity's existence is an insignificant stray mark in the book that is reality. For some people that's a fundamentally depressing idea, followed by "well then why do we even exist?" For others that's liberating. For me... that line of thinking doesn't lead to any practical conclusions about what you should do, so I tend to keep my thinking at levels of abstraction that are somewhat more Earth-sized (or smaller) in scope.
But more broadly, the point I was getting at is that I don't think people in general spend much time thinking about the multiple possible perspectives/beliefs that can be held about their actions, or about the second order effects of their actions, and my personal plea is for more people to do that.
Even more specifically, this time speaking about conversations I've actually had, if you are one of the thousands of engineers whose job is to crunch data ever more efficiently, perhaps it's worth spending some time mulling over why it's not kosher to just pull that customer data into the training data for a new ML model without getting consent first. I promise it's not because stupid laypeople want to make your job difficult.
Do you believe that?
None of my team would believe me anyway.
My pitch is more mundane: please give me good service, at least as much as you would want from any contractor that you might have hired to work on your own home. In return, you should expect that I am a good customer for your services, one that you would want to do repeat business with, and that serving my company is a profitable for you. I don't know if they actually buy my pitch, (they haven't yet quit! :-). I hope its a reasonable one.
That doesn't sound terribly exciting, and yet it is. I've been involved in this project from the very start, I've been talking with many stakeholders, I've had to make decisions on how to approach this, what tech stack to use, what features to focus on, what new features we could add, how to prioritise different concerns, etc.
I'm involved in the context of the project, and not merely the execution of it, and that's given me a much greater sense of ownership. I really care about this project and want to see it succeed.
So maybe just talk about the context isn't quite enough; involve people in that context, make sure they understand the why and have them decide on the how. Make sure they're not just cogs in the machine.
(It helps that the tech stack involves a Graph DB, which we didn't have any experience with before, and we create a lot of interesting data visualisations.)
This isn’t about opinion, it is about honesty and transparency and knowing what you’re working for.
Much better motivation is love for a process, in ship building example, ship engineering with management supporting career development.
On reddit they'd just invoke /r/lostredditor
My latest strategy is to hit back with humor. I don't know if it's working, but early results are positive.
Welcome to HN
But I guess (still using the language of this quote) you could say the the article is presuming the shipbuilders already love shipbuilding, and just need to be reminded that what they're building is for purposes of going to sea. Fine, but should they be impressed? To milk the analogy for all it's worth: A ship goes on the sea but it's not of the sea. It's of metal that comes out of the ground, or trees that grow out of the ground, and it's built on the ground, by people who go home at night to sleep in their houses that are on the ground. That's the divide. Shipbuilders actually have very little to do with the sea; in fact it's sort of their enemy, the thing they're protecting the customers from, the thing always threatening to creep in, seep in, and ruin their work! Maybe the analogy breaks down there... although then again... :)
Anyway I disagree with the notion that doing something for its own sake, or even (perish the thought) TO MAKE MONEY, somehow isn't adequately motivating. Half the time I wish all the temporarily-embarrassed millionaires could just fess up for once and say, yeah, I need the money. I wish it were okay to say that.
Or are they just getting a list of requirements from a middle-manager (rather than the user) who doesn't actually know what needs to be done?
The former can help motivate them and also help them develop better systems (that fit the real user needs, not management's perceived needs).
I'd ask why you need an "enterprise CRUD app". Programmers tend to like doing new things, and if your app doesn't offer anything new, why are you even building it?
"One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his ax. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love."
Thanks for the pointer, I love quote provenance research (well, reading it.)
Being listened to, and having a point of view heard and considered, is powerful stuff. If at the end, they feel heard, and their point of view considered, then they're usually willing to go along with the majority opinion at least, and sometimes become your biggest supporter.
Most times, being heard is all people want. Some times, being heard only validates a false sense of superiority and correctness.
It gets hard to motivate people when they know they're working on things that are detrimental to the public in some way, or that only exist to make other people look good. Trying to fluff the context in these cases tends to just make people even less motivated because they're not stupid.
If the work provides no value and the workers discover it, and stop working on it, the world is better off.
If the work provides negative value (to society) and the workers discover it, and stop working on it, the world is better off.
People should work on things which provide value to themselves, their community, and the world at large. They shouldn't be working on things that actively destroy those. And if the only reason they're working on them is because of a lack of awareness of their impact, then let them learn.
Unfortunately, lots of folks are working on things whose sole value truly is to put food on the table at home. I think there are few janitors that enjoy cleaning toilets, especially if they work for places where the workers or the public smear feces on the walls. Few folks get motivated to clean portable toilets or to work for minimum wage at a fast food place. Few folks are truly motivated to work retail.
And it doesn't matter that some of these give some small benefit to the community nor that things like fast food is a mixed thing (fast food both provides a benefit and destroys the community) or that lots of laborious jobs tend to destroy one's body - and it only takes one injury or heart attack to make one out of work.
It isn't because they lack awareness of their impact or anything, but more that folks need to survive. Not everyone can get a job with your description for a wide variety of reasons. Besides, at the end of the day society still needs folks to shower old folks in homes and to clean portable toilets, no matter how much they don't fit in your description.
But in general I think mission driven leadership is good as long as the top doesn’t have a habit of constantly overriding lower level decisions.
There are things you say and things you think. And there are ways of saying things so that you steer people away from their worst (from your perspective) behaviors without calling them out (just saying a thing sometimes gives people ideas, or clues them into your agenda).
And there are always more symbiotic ways to be self-serving, if being self-less is outside of your wheelhouse.
If you want to know how to motivate a person, start by asking them. Maybe they will be self aware enough to identify what it is, maybe not. If they don’t know what motivates them, ask them to take some time over the next week to reflect on a time where they were motivated at their job, and you can discuss it further in your next one on one. Then, take that scenario and start to deconstruct it. What was it about this time that was different than other situations? How long did that motivation last? Who were they working with at that time, and how much did the people play a role in keeping you motivated? How much do factors like stress and salary impact motivation for them?
Motivation is also fluid. What motivates someone at 25 is different than at 35. At 25 I craved recognition for having potential. At 35 I crave autonomy. Some fundamental components haven’t changed, but the overall story has.
So, when in doubt, and even when not in doubt, start by asking.
That's one of the reasons why I work where I work, because PMs don't stand between us and the clients.
But, you can’t expect your manager or anyone to know that about you unless you’re willing to share it. A good manager will understand this is demotivating and work within those boundaries. But, unfortunately managers aren’t clairvoyant, so we do need to hear it from you :)
Presumably it's because they aren't happy to do the work you ask of them, and the reasons for this can vary wildly, from the divorcee suffering a depression to the QA temp that knows you think of them about as fondly as of the stack of papers that stabilises that one wobbly table you don't like anyway...
Get back to your oxcart, peasant!
In many, perhaps most, situations, people are working to build things they don't own. That is the context. Any other spin on the context is just manipulation.
This stuff might work on some people, but, as a regular employee, I'm most motivated by frankness from my bosses. Nothing turns me off faster than platitudes about the purpose of our work or why I should be motivated by it.
To a point, this is more important to me than pay or equity.
Realism, surely isn't motivating in a capitalist society, you're working to make someone else richer in most jobs, someone else who is already rich.
"Meaningful context is built through hot messages: high-resolution information where nothing is left unsaid, the meaning is clear and the guesswork is reduced to a minimum."
It's hard to see the high-level talk as anything but just talk when the systems you have to deal with on a daily basis are a tire fire. Initech tried to talk a good game, too.
I suppose some people are motivated that way, but I care most about my daily process. If the process makes me miserable, no amount of "context" will motivate me.
The answer is going to be "well of course the shareholders deserve profits", or something similar?
Trust is extremely rare in the modern work place. From grueling interview loops designed to weed out "fakers" to open offices, to micro managers, to always on Slackers...
A little bit of trust goes a long way. Find good people and don't treat them like they're out to rip you off and their motivation will flow.
--Antoine de Saint Exupery
I like solving problems with concurrency and networking stuff, and typically don't pay much attention to how it affects the rest of the organization. I have some ethical issues with marketing, and worked on the adtech team of a company for two years for this reason.
I suspect this drives virtually any employer who I work with crazy, since they typically try and motivate me by telling me all of the cool stuff my work is going to do.
An employee with little programming experience used his supposed lack of context as an excuse for poor work and disinterest despite having been given an overview of (1) what the legacy software does and why, (2) the broader project goals, and (3) the immediate project goal (i.e., replacing the existing software). The employee similarly hid behind their lack of technical understanding, asking questions to "learn" but ignoring the answers.
Most large companies do not have a context for work done.
If they do, risk and reward is detached from it entirely.
The rest of the company forms a huge buffer such that you can do really well, or really badly, and it normally won't matter that much.
If there are levels of management that are "too important" for me to speak to, I'm out.
Your business exists to solve a problem, which then makes money. Otherwise, I expect your business to be in finance or the government's treasury--then your #1 is "to make money".
Not true of all companies, but certainly true of many AFAICT.
That doesn't mean that the myth is necessarily a good, ethical or healthy one. A lot of myths are of the form of "worthy sacrifice." Others are of the "defending oneself" sort, or the "ascent to greatness". The myth is made to fit the times and the task.
Organizations, and teams in those organizations, often take on their myths without consciously thinking about it. But it's absolutely critical to have them there to set the tone and allow everyone to proceed on the same page.
One way to motivate people is to make sure they understand the 'why' behind the work.
A step in making them understand the 'why' is talking about the broader context (which the article is about).
things being talked about are merely distinct, and certainly not interchangeable either / ors .