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The Incentive Trap

Jeffery Pfeffer had a thoughtful entry on BNET titled “When Will We Ever Learn” (December 18). He talks about the repetitive patterns that have been key in forming our present economic problems– the role of financial incentives.   When bonuses are based on the quantity of bottom line numbers it is inevitable that employees will rush to the finish line with the most signed contracts, billable hours, or over the top sales, whether they make sense or not. We are stuck in the pattern of “more is better” that began with the industrial revolution and still colors our economic landscape.   So the question arises, “How did we come to the conclusion that more is better?” This has been an overarching theme of our production/consumption society. We have become, first consumers and secondly citizens. Even after September 11, President Bush asked us to cooperate by getting out there and buying more. This line of thinking may have made sense as we learned to develop machines of mass production and invest in new and helpful technologies. However, if we are rewarded for our work efforts mainly by how many mortgages are signed, how many consulting hours are contracted, or how many students aced the standardized tests in school, we will continue down this path of no return.   If we look to nature we can clearly see the dead end of “more is better ”thinking. At some point “more” becomes toxic. Even too much oxygen, which is vital to our very existence, will lead to brain damage.    The amazing success of industrialization and technology has brought us to a crossroads in meaning and values that, if left unanswered, will keep us locked in old, outmoded...

From Clown to Humorist

Jim Carrey is funny! He also can be a great serious actor. He gave insight into the source of his acting skills. Interviewed on Larry King’s program last night he gave us a snapshot of just how he became a clown. As a youngster, Jim’s mother was in pain a great deal of the time and he did whatever he could to make her laugh. His grandparents were alcoholics and when they visited there was shame and dissention in the air. He remembered that at eight years old he had the conscious thought he wanted to make his mother proud, that she had “created a miracle.” He took his childhood angst and turned it into laughter. As I watched Jim I thought about our cult of celebrity worship, our addiction to discussing the lives of the rich and famous. Yet, we forget to factor in the very humanness that connects us all. It was clear that this talented man had to go through many caverns and dark places to turn into the eloquent adult he has become. Jim, a product of his difficult childhood, could have gone in a myriad of directions. He chose to take the clown of his childhood and become a humorist. Each of us has the opportunity to take the patterns from childhood and transform them into their healthy opposites if we are willing to take the time to explore. My book “Don’t Bring It To Work: Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success” has a map, called the Sankofa Map, that helps individuals go hunting for the treasure buried under the pain of childhood....

Colors and Textures for the New Administration

It was bound to happen. Obama’s color is once again causing debate. And, if we can go past the “Yes he is” or “No he isn’t” we could make headway beyond the traditional either/or climate that wastes so much time and creative energy of our population.   Obama represents for us a new form of human energy…he is a hybrid. He appears to have taken the best that is available from both sides of his family and from the cultures in which he grew up. In the book, “The Audacity of Hope” he mentions how engaged he was with the kids and the various animals that ran in the streets with him in Indonesia. That part of his life imprinted him as much as surfing in Hawaii, walking the streets of New York or finding his way to class in the esteemed halls of ivy at Harvard. We are all complex, multi-layered beings who, if we take the time to look inside ourselves are brilliant colors far beyond black and white.   It is an exciting time. We are at the very edges of new dialogues as we break through to see ourselves and others with clearer eyes. In the classic film, “Being There” Peter Sellers plays a gardener named (perfectly) Chance. When he meets a politically powerful Washington couple he tells them his name and they hear “Chauncey Gardinier.” Chance, the gardener, was not sophisticated enough for them. Chance represents the inevitable blank canvas on which the other characters paint their own level of reality. One sees Chance as a potential lover, another as a political maven, others see him as a great philosopher.   We...

Reassess WIIFM

The news these past few weeks reminds me of a quote from a man who was both a visionary and a pragmatist. The quote is not a simplistic. “Don’t Worry Be Happy” statement, it is one that seems to cycle throughout recorded time showing that “bad guys” can and do win and then ultimately lose.    “When I despair,” Gandhi once said, “I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end they always fail.”   My question is: What questions do we need to ask ourselves to get beyond self-serving behaviors that sports figure O.J. Simpson, financial expert Bernard Madoff, and politician Rod Blagojevich exhibit?   They all exhibit the pattern of “super achiever” where there is a strong desire to fulfill “the American Dream” of being rich, famous, and powerful. Super Achievers have been lauded in our celebrity addicted culture and in our work environments.  We have turned the other cheek and permitted abuses to occur and held up the rich and the famous as role models for our kids. I do not mean to imply that achievement is negative. Achievement and creativity are at the core of being human. I am talking about the obsession for “being number one” and for bending the rules to the breaking point to get there.    Super Achievers are often frightened folks who need to make up for shames or disappointments that have occurred in their families. They will show the world, using the metrics by which the world measures success, that they can call the shots. Until one day shame...

More than Happiness

Last week the British Medical Journal reported that connecting with happy people improves one’s happiness. We know from neuroscience that we all possess mirror neurons that pick up signals from those around us. So the mantra “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” certainly makes sense. Except every time I check the news and learn that more and more people are losing their homes and jobs I find it hard to do a happiness tap dance. I wonder if that means folks who know me should stay far away.   So I spent some time thinking about what it means to be happy and I realized that it is often directly related to conditions “out there.” If the market is up, more people seem happy, if the new car is a good deal, it brings a smile, if a few pounds are shed, you will want to join me for a salad. Yet, what happens if the economy is tanking and business is dismal? Most folks I connect with lately are both physically and emotionally distressed. What can we do? Pretend and “fake it till you make it” or just admit we are downright scared and depressed and look for some solace in the medicine cabinet.   Maybe there is another alternative and just maybe this is the best and right time to think deeper than “happiness.” Maybe our focus on happiness has led us to be just a bit too self-centered. Perhaps the focus can be altruism, a word we don’t use all that much. It’s action-oriented. You have to DO something. Like, if you have a sandwich, give half to a homeless person. Stop someone on...