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Happy Poodle in Snow (c) Elke Barbara Bachler

On Motivation and Growth.

Happy Poodle in Snow (c) Elke Barbara Bachler

I’d like to start my new blog re-posting one of my articles from 2010 [1]. Still like it, plus I think it’s a good way to start – doing some recycling … here we go.

Dan Pink on Motivation

In 2010 I stumbled across a lecture on motivation by Dan Pink – and it got me thinking: “Could you apply the 40 Inventive Principle of TRIZ [2] to this interesting contradiction?” So I’ve tried to – and that’s what this article is about.

But first, the video. I’ve chosen the RSA Animate version on YouTube because of its supporting and entertaining drawings. You might also want to listen to his TED Talk [3].

RSA Animate Version:

Head over to YouTube and have a look » RSA Animate Channel

Let’s see – what does Dan Pink tell us here? He states, referring to scientific cognitions, that monetary rewards work perfectly for manual tasks. However, when it’s about creative and cognitive tasks, monetary rewards don’t foster, but even counteract working performance.

Kinda interesting, isn’t it. Now let us think about creative problem solving. I’d say that is a cognitive task.

What does it mean in terms of innovation, when money does not foster creative problem solving?

As stated, it is necessary to fulfil the belowest parts of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (aka securing comfortable living conditions). That done, giving people the opportunity to act self-determined is the key. Therefore two things seem most important – the ability to trust and to let self-organisation happen.

Behold! That is way easier said than done. Think about what we’ve got right now – rules and  parameters for even the tiniest things. We love to control and chart. We thrive on facts and figures. But when it comes to factors like motivation, trust, self-organisation or innovation culture our measuring systems … well, yes, they mess up. And that is exactly where I chose my starting point – measurement.

Applying TRIZ

Thinking in terms of TRIZ it is quite a nice contradiction [4] – nurturing employee motivation leads to difficult measuring conditions. So let’s see what is recommended to solve this contradiction without trade-offs – using the TRIZ Matrix [5][6].

Parameter Pairing: Power (21) is improving, Difficulty of Detection (37) gets worse.

I’d say the technical parameter 21, Power, is improving, and technical parameter 37, Difficulty of Detection, gets worse. Which leaves us with three principles: 19, Periodic Action, 35, Parameter Changes and 16, Partial or Excessive Actions.

Resulting Principles: Periodic Action (19), Parameter Changes (35), Partial or Excessive Actions (16)

Well, well, well. I’d say the mentioned example – letting employees busy themselves for 12 hours with whatever they want to do – is a periodic action. There are periods of freedom as well as of regulation. It might be also seen as an example for principle 16 – excessive freedom within a certain (partial) time span.

When it comes to principle 35, I observe the following … a parameter change often means a jump from one s-curve [7] to another one. IMHO this principle is closely connected with TRIZ Trends [8], which act like a technological crystal ball – where am I right now, what comes next, am I able to jump.

The ability to jump requires access to certain resources, like money or know-how, tangible and intangible assets. That is true for technology, but also for the given state of mind.

Principle 35 might propose a change of parameters aka a change of values we depend upon.

It’s a jump from making money to make meaning (referring to Guy Kawasaki and his “The Art of the Start” here [9]). For Spiral Dynamics® fans – it’s fostering the awakening of a new vMEME® or even more so, the jump from the first onto the second tier [10].

Changing Values

Dan Pink states that people thrive on becoming better at what they like to do – and I’d say that’s true for grown-ups as well as for kids. It is not only food for thought when it comes to a powerful working atmosphere, but for our educational system, too. We should trust in the willingness to learn, not suppress it by standardizing, norming and grading. After all, it’s where an innovation culture might take its roots.

I guess it is safe to say that as an innovative company, you’re going to need people who love to create new solutions and are not afraid of change. And as the fear of change is closely connected with the already mentioned hierarchy of needs [11], these people should be paid enough to make their living in a secure, comfortable way.

But it does not stop there. I guess it is just as safe to say that what is true for the “system” employee is true for the “supersystem” company – companies in permanent fear of bankruptcy won’t innovate. Not really.

In a state of permanent danger to innovate is a matter of self-defense, not of added value. And that does make a difference in quality.

Oh yes, there is a thing like being forced to act due to psychological strain – or to use an even better expression: angst. But, let’s face it, the resulting solutions are  merely quick & dirty. There is a quite simple explanation to that. In case of distress, our brain uses pre-set patterns in order to react fast. And that is a good thing to do – you don’t want to think about creative problem solving when attacked by a saber-toothed tiger. It’s fight or flight – use that spear or climb that tree.

Problem is … such patterns are common, not novel or exceptional.

However, what you hear and read in quite an obnoxious way is: “Innovate or die.” Why is that? Why global rat racing instead of frying bigger fish – like global well-being?

If you ask me, it is our policy of growth. More turnover, more employees, more products, more services …  quantitative economic growth is the golden calf of our time. Phew.

People who know me personally also know – that’s when my “biognosis-mind” starts to suffer tremendously. I’m a big admirer of Frederic Vester [12]. He formulated eight biocybernetic principles, one of them being:

“System function has to be independent from quantitative growth.”

And I second that with all my heart, knowledge and life experience. Fortunately, there are others who recognize this perma-growth as a vicious circle. Trends like sustainability, adaptive stability and de-growth [13] are there, and getting stronger.

Rounding it up

Let’s focus on the term “adaptive stability” – I’d say that’s a good road to follow, especially when it comes to the motivation to innovate. It means stability AND flexibility (which is again a nice contradiction – you might want to try that one on your own, using the TRIZ Matrix).

Stability ensures that the basic needs are granted (thinking of Maslow), and flexibility allows to change and adapt, using innovation to do so. The ability to change has to be there, as we are affected by ever-changing (economical, political, personal, …) life conditions.

Given, an endless scalability of “adaptive stability” might not be possible, but if we eliminate perma-growth, it doesn’t have to. And as we don’t have to grow all the time, pressure’s off. There’s room for creativity which adds value because it wants to. Self-organised quality growth. Sounds like a desirable change of values, doesn’t it?


  2. The 40 Inventive Principles are used to solve contradictions – e. g. something should be very sturdy but not very heavy – without conflict of objectives.
  4. TRIZ is a Russian acronym, meaning “Theory of Inventive Problems Solving”. Some say it is a philosophy, a special school of thought, others simply use it as a knowledge-based creativity technique. As it is based on patent research, the original field of application is engineering. However, there are applications in business and management, too.
  5. The TRIZ Matrix helps to apply the 40 Inventive Principles to contradiction challenges, using the parameters which are affected (if one gets better, another one gets worse – which is a trade-off / a conflict of objectives).
  8. Based on the TRIZ proposition, that systems evolve towards ideality, TRIZ Trends of Evolution suggest certain technological development steps, e. g. in terms of surface segmentation, smart materials, geometric evolution, action co-ordination, degrees of freedom, and more.