Archive for April 14, 2011

Motivating cognitive work with Pink’s Drive

A recent NYTimes article tells us that the Silicon Valley hunt for programming talent has hit a new high.  An example carrot offered to new recruits at a new start-up (in the below article, but not quoted below) are classes on how to create their own start-up.  The high salaries may be an effective sales pitch to draw new students into CS.  But I think that the other items are the ones that will really inspire and motivate new hires.

My colleague Bill Leahy recently sent me the link to an RSanimate video of a Daniel Pink talk about “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.” Pink says that, when seeking to motivate cognitive tasks, more money can back-fire.  The role of money is just to take money off the table — it has to be “enough.”  From then on, more cognitive effort is inspired by offering “Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.”  Starting one’s own start-up is autonomy and gives one a purpose.

I wonder if Pink’s story also helps to explain why it’s so hard to get faculty to change how they teach.  Being a professor is filled with “Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose” — it’s a great job where you have enormous autonomy, you get to work on research problems that you think are worthwhile (“purpose”), and you have the time to develop mastery in your chosen sub-sub-field.  But being a good teacher is about responding to the students’ needs, even if it’s kind of boring for you.  You surrender some autonomy.  Becoming a master teacher is worthwhile purpose, but that’s not necessarily the “purpose” that a new PhD graduate finds inspiring.

Computer whiz kids have long been prize hires in Silicon Valley. But these days tech companies are dreaming up new perks and incentives as the industry wages its fiercest war for talent in more than a decade.

Free meals, shuttle buses and stock options are de rigueur. So the game maker Zynga dangles free haircuts and iPads to recruits, who are also told that they can bring their dogs to work. Path, a photo-sharing site, moved its offices so it could offer sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. At Instagram, another photo-sharing start-up, workers take personal food and drink orders from employees, fill them at Costco and keep the supplies on hand for lunches and snacks.

Then there are salaries. Google is paying computer science majors just out of college $90,000 to $105,000, as much as $20,000 more than it was paying a few months ago. That is so far above the industry average of $80,000 that start-ups cannot match Google salaries. Google declined to comment.

via In Silicon Valley, a Lack of Engineers – NYTimes.com.

April 14, 2011 at 10:05 am Leave a comment


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