Drop, clean and move on

Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward. Victor Kiam

I have a curious habit of sitting at my desk and dropping things on the floor. I don’t mean randomly dropping things. Rather, when I am done a project, I simply drop whatever paper or items were critical to that effort on to the floor. I have no idea why I acquired this habit, I just do it. You can imagine that at the end of whatever I’m working on, the floor near my desk is littered with paper and other items of dross, and my office tends to look rather, um, messy. (read: fire hazard).

As if the cleaning staff (if I had any) had taken the garbage can and turned it upside down as some form of protest. At least a day or two will go by before I clean up the mess, which then satisfies my urge for closure on the project.

Because of melting ice – I won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say that my love affair with this cottage is officially over – I had to move my office into the living room.

The new office corner, within warming distance of wood stove, and close to piano/fiddle/guitar.

The new office corner, within warming distance of wood stove, and close to piano/fiddle/guitar.

For the first time since the winter started, my feet are warm while I am working. I can look out the window and see Roxy barking at birds, and I can easily get up and get her when she wants to come in. And go out. And come in. And go out. Ad nauseum.

Looking out the door at Roxy's footprints. She's inside the house now, waiting to go back out!

Looking out the door at Roxy’s footprints. She’s inside the house now, waiting to go back out!

This morning, I decided to deal with the remains of a project proposal that I did not win. Papers, paper clips, reference articles, pages torn from the Globe and Mail, and a host of other bits and bobs went flying onto the floor. My other dog Lucy lay under the desk, watching things fly by with a knowing glance, anticipating, I’m sure, my eventual cleaning of the mess. In a few days.

But I then did something unusual. Having spent the last 10 months focusing on change management appears to have made an impact on my psyche. I realized a change in my behaviour was necessary. Don’t jump to conclusions and think I managed to restrain myself from throwing things on the floor. No, no, nothing that significant or monumental. What I did was congruent with my behaviour; I just sped up the process a bit.

Because I am now working in the living room, I didn’t like the idea of having such a mess in a room that I use for fun. My fiddle and guitars are perched near my desk, and the thought of having to traipse through the paper to get to my instruments wasn’t sitting well with me. What do I do? Um, clean up the mess sooner rather than later? So I did.

Why have I spent this entire blog writing about cleaning up under my desk? Because the very act of cleaning up work from a project I didn’t win has made a difference in my spirit that I didn’t even know I needed. When I found out I didn’t get the contract, I felt blue and sad for a while. The act of throwing pieces of that spent project on the floor was a process that made me stop and think about the efforts of my team, who worked with me to put the proposal together. It made me cherish them even more for their energy and commitment to my efforts. The act of cleaning up of the mess helped me to put that in perspective (even though I thought I already had). It allowed me to reflect, accept, and move on.

My strange exercise of “processing” works for me. Throwing things on the floor helps distill the things that are important, and be mindful of what something means to me. I learned that, perhaps, I spend a bit too much time thinking and re-thinking about what I mis-judged, or what might have gone wrong in my work. I learned that there are reasons to speed up the process now and then, even if it is simply to have a cleaner living space so I can get back to doing those things I love…like playing the fiddle, playing the guitar, or bidding on other, more wonderful projects. I may have fallen on my face, but I’m still moving forward…with a cleaner office and happier heart!

Monkeys and Motivation

I am still working for Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), helping introduce a new software system for managing, sharing, saving and storing information. I work with a team of Business Analysts, Information Management specialists and a host of others to help build the best information management solutions for each of NRCan’s business units. Our goal is to ensure effective uptake of the GCDOCS system.

(In other words, I’m working with a group of folks who’s job it is to get people motivated and interested in using this new system. It’s not easy, and motivation is a challenge.)

I’ve been doing a lot of research about change and motivation, and how to help people manoeuvre through the challenges that are thrown their way on the road to something new. Luckily, I found Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”, and I’ve been eating it up. Pink writes not about change, but about motivation, and what motivates us to do anything.

You have to read backwards, of course, but this is the book.

You have to read backwards, of course, but this is the book.

Harry Harlow was a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1940s, doing research in primate behaviour. Pink provides the reader with a detailed description of Harlow’s experiments on learning with rhesus monkeys. Harlow grounded his research in the fact that the monkeys had two main drivers that powered their behaviour: a biological drive – food, water and reproduction; and an external reward/punishment drive.

What happened in Harlow’s experiments was most interesting. The monkeys were given a puzzle that they had to learn, and they very quickly learned to do it. In fact, they completed the puzzle simply because they found it gratifying. There was no reward, no satisfaction with food; Harlow realized that the monkeys found it gratifying to solve puzzles. The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward.

How does this relate to GCDOCS and NRCan? The GCDOCS team is putting a huge amount of effort into motivating staff by focusing on the second driver – reward and punishment. Change management activities are based on the premise that the staff will not be inclined to use GCDOCS, and we need to first reward them when they do, and then perhaps threaten them with taking away their access to other shared drives in the future.

What if we looked at the third driver of behaviour? What if we focused our change management activities on this intrinsic motivation – that staff will be interested in GCDOCS and will be motivated by curiosity, interest and sheer gratification of using a new program? If we could recognize that there is joy in the activity, and that as humans, we have a desire to get better and better at something that matters, perhaps we could encourage staff to use GCDOCS because they want to, rather than because they have to.

Pink continues to explain that this kind of behaviour requires three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. If we can give the staff some autonomy for how they choose to use GCDOCS – using their rules rather than external rules set up by us – we may see more interest in using the program. If we can encourage and support mastery, without worrying about success or failure, we may see more expansive use of GCDOCS. Finally, if we can prove purpose that relates to each person, and really and truly reflects their own own human condition, staff may choose to use GCDOCS because it makes sense to them and their lives.

In reading this blog, I see that I can replace “GCDOCS” with anything. If I want to help foster a change; if I want to awaken the motivation of colleagues, friends, anyone, then I must recognize (and celebrate) that motivation is intrinsic and doesn’t have to be external. I must realize that autonomy, mastery and purpose may speak louder than more time off, an increase in pay, or any other external motivator.

I play the fiddle. I’m not particularly good at it. But I am motivated to play and get better, not by any money or fame I receive (which, of course, I don’t), but because I love it. Like Harlow’s monkeys, I am gratified by the task at hand, and perhaps more by fluke than by practice, I get better.

My motivation is the love of the instrument, and playing with my friends, like Eleanor!

My motivation is the love of the instrument, and playing with my friends, like Eleanor!

My advice to you, dear reader? Get Daniel Pink’s book. Think about what you do – in work, in sport, in pleasure –  why you do it, and how you are motivated. You may become happy with the inherent satisfaction of an activity rather than an external reward. And won’t that be fun???!!!