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Posted on: Friday, 05 February 2010 by Rajiv Popat

You have just finished patting yourself on your back for getting a team of seriously kick ass developers up and running. The team has not just flocked together, they have actually proved to you that they actually have the secret sauce for success. Products are on time. Customers love your organization. The sky is blue and it is not even falling.

You think of giving yourself the liberty to feel really happy about the amazing work environment and the work culture of your organization.

That is when Jack walks into your cubical and tells you that he isn't feeling motivated enough.

Jack, dear reader, has a problem.

A problem that he himself, in his very own words, describes as - 'Too much freedom'.

You know where this is going.

You see is that of Morpheus from The Matrix holding up a battery and saying - "The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.'

You cringe.

'Shut up and listen to him' - you tell yourself as you intently listen to Jack describing his problem.

Sitting right across the table, Jack, dear reader, is telling you that he needs more monitoring, stringent deadlines and above all what he calls a 'big hard push' so that he can get things done. Not everyone is self motivated - Jack tells you. Jack wraps the discussion by telling you that in the absence of artificial deadlines and constant monitoring he is not feeling motivated enough to get things done.

Then as you sit there and reflect really hard you realize that Jack is not looking for motivation. He is looking for fear. Fear that can drive him to get his job done. Fear that can force him to grow his branches far and wide even if he does not really feel motivated to grow deeper roots.

What Jack is trying to do, dear reader, has its root back in the pre-historic era and how the human race evolved. Dragos Roua describes this phenomenon much more articulately than me. He explains:

Our brain has a very deep connection with fear. Deep in our limbic brain (the oldest part of our brain, also called the “reptilian” brain) lies the centers of fear. On top of them other layers of our brain have grown. But the deeper core is still there and it can still be activated.

Whether we like it or not, we’re still conditioned to act on fear. Our limbic brain is still stimulated by a variety of factors.

We translated our old fears related to survival to our modern indicators of success: we’re afraid of being taken for less than we are or we’re afraid that somebody talks bad about us. We’re afraid that we’re going to lose something if we’re not talking “immediate and aggressive” action towards the potential danger.

What Jack, dear reader, is asking you to do, is basically stimulate his limbic brain. Put simply, Jack is asking for a shot of fear-based-steroids so that he can play a few power-shots in his professional life.

Dragos, in the same article, also describes why the basic approach can be fairly lethal in the long term. He explains:

Negativity is powerful.  Every time you’re afraid, you’re giving your focus and power to the potential danger. All your energy must be there, because your reptilian brain is telling you’ll have to survive. Doesn’t matter for that reptilian brain if the fear was socially induced, if you scream “fear” it will be activated.

The more fear factors you have, the more energy you’ll have to allocate. And you’re going to pay attention to a lot of potential dangers. Sooner than you think, you’ll measure your success by the rate of your survival actions. And you’re becoming accountable to your fear sources. You’ll be actually driven by your fear sources. This is why a fearful person is so easy to manipulate.

Turning human beings into batteries is what most software development shops around the world are so very good at. We tend to refer to people as 'resources' and use every arrow in our management quiver to strike terror in those 'resources' so that we can improve their productivity. You realize how bad things are when the best of your people come to you begging for shots of fear-based-steroids, under the excuse that not-everyone-is-self-motivated.

I leave you, dear reader, with one little thought worth harping on. You might not be self motivated. Motivation may not come from within, but that is not an excuse for not looking for your own motivation yourself; and while you are at it, you might want to look for it really hard; because if you do not look for your motivation, it will not come looking for you.

Take a few shots of fear-based-steroids and you might be a 'resource' that runs on a battery before you know it. And then when that happens do not crib about how big an ass-hole your manager is.

Now go read a few books, watch TED videos, play around with some seriously interesting technology you feel passionately about or find your own avenues of looking for getting constant motivation.

I wish you good luck.