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Re: [agile-usability] Re: One Of My Biggest Agile Problem.

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  • Jonathan House
    Hi Ron, Yes, I ve had a cat. I d say that they are the exception that proves the rule. It s amazing how well they can take your reward / punishment system and
    Message 1 of 46 , Sep 5, 2008
      Hi Ron,

      Yes, I've had a cat. I'd say that they are the exception that proves the rule. It's amazing how well they can take your reward / punishment system and turn it against you...

      On a more serious note, echoing one of the things that was touched upon in the SL Agile discussion yesterday, there is a wide spectrum of rewards and punishment and an equally wide spectrum of applicable conditions for those rewards and punishments. People who don't bother to go beyond the surface automatically equate rewards with the giving of physical things or overtly positive verbal feedback, and punishment with the infliction of physical discomfort or overtly negative verbal feedback. That's only a part of the story.

      Take Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as an example (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs). Here's a summary in reverse order (from primitive to advanced):

      Physiological needs (food, water, air, sleep, etc).
      Safety (safe from physical harm, secure employment, secure family bonds, etc).
      Love (friendships, positive family relationships, etc)
      Esteem (confidence, achievement, respect of others)
      Self-actualization (morality, creativity, problem solving, etc).

      The human experience completely encompasses this range of needs. Those that fail to have needs met at a lower level are rarely in any condition to fulfill needs at a higher level (yes, I know that there are detractors to this theory. I'm not one of them).

      Now take the concept of reward and punishment and apply it across this hierarchy of needs. Let's see what we come up with:

      Physiological - rewards and punishments at this level are obvious. The criticality of those same rewards and punishments are quite literally the difference between life and death. Obviously exertion of rewards and punishments at this level are extremely effective for inducing behavior in individuals, but have no place in any level of civilization due to the massive negative effects on the rest of the population. If only the dictators of the world would pay attention in their psychology classes.

      Safety - Even though this is still very far down the needs hierarchy, it's surprising how often reward / punishments at this level come up in our modern societies. Rewards include continued employment, access to family and property, security of the physical self from harm. Punishments include loss of jobs, denial of access to family and friends, loss of property, risk of bodily harm. The whole concept of an effective workforce revolves around the concept of the access to or denial of employment. Do well at your job and your reward is continued employment. Screw up, and you lose your job. Take a look at places where it is much harder to either become employed, or once employed, lose your job. What happens to the productivity of the workforce without this reward / punishment system? I need point no further than to government and public education to illustrate this point.

      Love - Forget to give your significant other a gift on Valentines day? Guess what's coming. Plan an elaborate surprise party for a close friend and what can you expect? Reward and punishment examples abound at this level.

      Esteem and Self Actualization - Now we're getting into interesting territory. Alfie Kohn states (in the interview that William linked to) "The kind of motivation elicited by extrinsic inducements isn't just less effective than intrinsic motivation; it threatens to erode that intrinsic motivation, that excitement about what one is doing.".

      I call "bulls**t" on this one. Intrinsic motivation is just as effectively controlled by rewards and punishments as extrinsic motivations. The only difference is the nature of those rewards and punishments. Here's an example. I, as an experienced martial artist (yes, I really am) can perform physical tasks that others want to learn. According to Kohn, my demonstration of these techniques does not constitute an extrinsic "reward" or motivation. I am simply performing a physical act that others are observing. But yet I know that if I execute this physical act in an inept way, I am going to demotivate those that are watching me from wanting to learn (failing to trigger their intrinsic motivations). But if I perform that exact same physical act to the best of my abilities, there's going to be a lot more intrinsic motivation popping up. No reward and punishment from the perspective of Kohn, but I have still quite effectively influenced behavior.

      Effective rewards and punishments at the esteem and self actualization level are never physical, and are rarely overt ("you did a great job, Jimmy!"). But they still exist, and we see and use them all of the time. Just because they don't take the form of what we traditionally consider rewards and punishments doesn't mean that they aren't. My alternative theory is that specific categories of rewards and punishments cease to be effective when the target of that attention transitions to a different level of need. The mistake we make is that we don't adjust our rewards and punishments to match their growing (or diminishing) level of needs actualization.

      Oh, and a final parting shot at Kohn. If extrinsic reward systems are so fallible, why is it that we continue to see those with greater skills being rewarded above others with lesser skills? Employees that perform better are rewarded not from a warm glow within, but higher pay. Professional athletes receive the pay and attention that they do because of superior physical skills. How many people capable of performing at at a high level say "no, you can keep all of that nasty extrinsic piles of cash. I'm intrinsically motivated to be a florist!".


      Jonathan House
      Technology Operations Director, Amirsys Inc.
      Voodoo Usability Shaman, Agile Sadist

      Ron Jeffries wrote:
      Hello, Jonathan.  On Friday, September 5, 2008, at 4:36:54 PM, you
      As an aside to all of this, we continued the rewards / punishments 
      conversation into the Agile Roundtable discussion group here in Salt
      Lake City on Thursday and had some fascinating discussions. There were
      others here who were present, so I'll let them share their thoughts. My
      takeaway was that there was no convincing arguments that dispelled the
      reward / punishment mechanisms as a means of successfully altering behavior.
      Oh, yes, it is well-established. Punishment will alter behavior --
      while the punisher is looking.
      Haven't you ever had a cat?
      Ron Jeffries
      Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.
        --Albert Einstein
    • William Pietri
      ... That s a good point. The biggest complaint I hear about this list is that the volume makes it too hard to keep up. Might I suggest that any future
      Message 46 of 46 , Sep 6, 2008
        aacockburn wrote:
        > I also have enjoyed this rampaging discussion immensely, even if
        > it has precious little to do with agile-usability. It has opened
        > some interesting doors for long-term inquiry in my mind. (Thanks
        > Jonathan for that).
        > Maybe now we can let this group get on with its regularly scheduled
        > program :)

        That's a good point. The biggest complaint I hear about this list is
        that the volume makes it too hard to keep up. Might I suggest that any
        future discussion on this topic go to a more appropriate list? E.g.,
        this one:



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