motivation

“Why I F***ing Hate Unicorns and the Culture They Breed”

Short cuts are one path to success, but they’re a very perilous path. And when a short-cut mentality starts to dominate an industry like tech startups, it not only threatens the stability of the entire industry – it also downplays the reality of the day-to-day gruntwork that builds a sustainable, solid product. In the words of venture capitalist Mark Suster,

I blame unicorns. Not the successful companies themselves but the entire bullshit culture of swash-buckling startups who define themselves by hitting some magical $1 billion valuation number and the financiers who back them irrespective of metrics that justify it. Unicorn has become part of our lexicon in a sickening way and will no doubt become part of the history we tell about how things got so out of control again….

Victory on the field is more often a result of three yards and a cloud of dust. I like that. So, too, startups. It’s not about being on stage at a Demo Day or featured in an article in TechCrunch or closing a $20 million round. It’s about continually shipping code. It’s about putting out menacing bugs. It’s about a 6:15am flight to a customer in Detroit in Winter for a $200k deal to hit your budget for the quarter….

It’s really about love. And sacrifice. And hard work. And putting in the daily things that it takes to achieve great things. And how in the daily routine of being yourself, committing to goals and just living life, you realize that goals were easier to obtain than you had imagined.

Suster expresses his frustration in this brilliant blog post. Please read the whole thing – it’s worth your time.

(H/t Allison Manley)

A Tribute to Bill Watterson’s Perspective on Success

The work of cartoonist Bill Watterson is widely loved and respected, but Watterson has had a most unconventional career path. His comic strip Calvin and Hobbes was one of the most successful cartoons of the late 1980s and early 1990s – but Watterson resisted all attempts to commercialize the strip and its characters. No animated movie, no TV series, no stuffed toys or other merchandise. And when Watterson felt the comic strip had “said all it had to say”, he graciously ended it. Other than a few unexpected projects and guest appearances since then – like in 2014,  when Watterson anonymously took over a week of Stephan Pastis’ comic strip Pearls Before Swine – Watterson has worked on whatever he wants to, whenever he feels like it, and stayed out of the public eye.

One of my friends showed me this comic by artist Gavin Aung Than, who runs a website called Zen Pencils. Than was frustrated with working in corporate graphic design, and quit his job to create a career in what he found personally rewarding: choosing inspirational quotes and drawing cartoons to illustrate them. Zen Pencil is a wonderful site; the quotes are carefully selected, and Than’s artwork is astounding – especially when he is illustrating the words of another artist (Calvin and Hobbes fans will recognize the visual reference in the last panel of this comic). Than’s commentary on his Watterson comic explains very eloquently why Watterson’s work is so highly regarded by other cartoonists, and why Than personally was inspired in his work by Watterson’s unconventional choices. Here’s Watterson’s words and Than’s images, in a beautiful and profound commentary on what “success” really looks like. (more…)

D.F.L. (Dead F***ing Last)

When you look at competition results, there are several acronyms that you might see next to athletes’ names, such as DNQ (did not qualify), DNF (did not finish), and WD (withdrew). But there’s also an unofficial acronym, and it represents a placement that most competitors will experience at least once in their careers. That acronym is DFL – dead f***ing last.

In the “winning is everything” ethos of competing, DFLing is something to be ashamed of, to avoid, to move on from. We assume that the DFLer choked, or didn’t train hard enough, or shouldn’t have entered the event in the first place. Sometimes we celebrate DFLers for their persistence and determination, like ski jumper Eddie the Eagle at the 1988 Winter Olympics. But more often than not DFLing is an embarrassment, and the only response that’s considered appropriate from the DFLer is either to quit competing or to work extra hard so as not to finish last again.

However, there’s another way to think about DFLs. As described in a recent article by runner Lauren Fleshman, a DFL placing can turn out to be (more…)

Management and Leadership Lessons from Skating Parents

As an adult skater, and as someone who only started skating seriously as an adult, having a parent involved in my skating career is something I missed out on entirely. But for many parents, having a child in skating is like managing an organization. The parent has to recruit and hire staff to work with their child (coaches, choreographers, off-ice trainers, dance teachers, costume designers); they have to schedule their child’s training and other activities related to the sport; they have to make sure the child gets to everything on time and is prepared for the activity they’re going to; and they are the “investor” in the business, i.e. the one that pays for everything (which can be very expensive).

And the questions that skating parents often struggle with are very similar to the questions faced by many business leaders and managers. How intensely should they be involved with someone’s progress or skill development, particularly if that person is going through a difficult time? How can they facilitate a positive experience for everyone involved in the organization? How can they help people become independent and responsible, and to develop the ability to make the best decisions for themselves? (more…)

Blog Carnival: My Post-Ph.D. Story

Jacquelyn Gill over at The Contemplative Mammoth blog has put forward a great idea for the month of May: a “Post-Ph.D. Blog Carnival”,  for bloggers to tell their stories of what they did after finishing their Ph.D. degrees. As she notes, there are, and will be, a lot of stories of people leaving academia in disgust or disillusionment after completing a Ph.D.. But there are also stories of people who stayed, and there’s value in learning about wherever Ph.D. graduates end up. I’m one of those who stayed in academia, and this is my post-Ph.D. story.

To understand my post-Ph.D.story, you have to understand the context of the story. I’m proud to (more…)

On Commencement, and Moving Forward

In my work, it’s the time of year on campus when things are gearing up for graduation – and a big part of that process at a lot of universities and colleges is choosing a commencement speaker  for the graduation ceremony. I’ve sat through these ceremonies as a graduating student and as a faculty member, and I have some painful memories of very tedious, long-winded speakers who spouted cliche after cliche. But I’ve also been privileged to hear great speakers like author Antonine Maillet; at the ceremony where I received my MBA, she gave a beautiful address that was like being told an enchanting tale about the power and magic of books.

Stephen Colbert isn’t graduating from university this year, but, (more…)

Stephen Colbert on Finding Joy in Your Work

The best five minutes of television in 2013 happened on August 7, when The Colbert Report aired a video of Stephen Colbert and “friends” dancing to Daft Punk’s song Get Lucky. Daft Punk had originally been scheduled to appear on the show in person – but they were also booked for the MTV Video Music Awards a few days later, and because of that MTV insisted that they not appear on Colbert’s show. So when Daft Punk cancelled, the video was quickly created to fill the sudden gap in the show’s schedule.

Because the video clearly involved considerable planning and effort, there was some skepticism after the broadcast about whether Colbert had actually made the video a few days earlier and then made up the cancellation story to get more attention for the video. In this podcast, hosted by comedian Paul Mecurio, Colbert gives a very thorough explanation of how the video came to be – which, as it turns out, is a rather complex story, involving what Daft Punk was and wasn’t willing to do, clashing corporate interests, and a lot of quick changes of strategy.

What struck me most about this interview (more…)

Caring, Not Caring, And Success

I’ve just finished reading David Epstein’s excellent book The Sports Gene, a fascinating exploration of the research on genetic and physiological factors that may contribute to exceptional athletic performance. Ironically, I got the book only a few weeks before I saw the fascinating Alex Gibney documentary The Armstrong Lie, which was intended to be about Lance Armstrong‘s 2009 return to competitive cycling in the Tour de France, but instead ended up being about Armstrong’s secret use of performance-enhancing drugs. Clearly anyone who takes PEDs is trying to gain a physiological advantage in competition, but watching Armstrong’s behaviour in the film made me wonder about another factor in exceptional athletic performance: (more…)

Why It’s Good to Be Bad at Something

A lot of writing about success and achievement encourages you to find your “passion” (a word that is getting extremely overused) or to set a goal, and then to single-mindedly work as hard as you can to achieve as much as possible. I’m going to propose an alternate strategy for improvement: do something you’re terrible at. (more…)

Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive’: A Short Journey on a Tiny Piece of Road

Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us is being mentioned more and more as a good introduction to understanding workplace motivation. I’m not familiar with any of Pink’s other work, some of which has been fiercely criticized. But I was motivated (so to speak) to read this book because I teach about motivation in some of my classes, and some of my research deals with it as well. So I am always interested in what someone has to say about this particular topic.

Drive isn’t a textbook or an academic book. It’s a popular press book, and as such it’s clearly intended as a Malcolm Gladwell-style book – research experiments explained in an understandable way, and useful practical advice based on that research. The spare design of Drive’s cover even mimics the design of the covers of Gladwell’s books, and Pink’s writing follows Gladwell’s style of grandiose declarations and confident assertions. But, unlike Gladwell, Pink accurately describes the research he writes about, and I commend him for that.  I also applaud him for explaining how motivation is both intrinsic and extrinsic (and pointing out that each kind has different effects), and for emphasizing that just throwing money at workers isn’t going to make them work harder. These are realities of motivation that often get ignored and which are always worth talking about.

Unfortunately, though, there’s more wrong with Drive than there is right. (more…)