Thursday, February 16, 2017

Teach them to fish instead of feed them fish!

Sometimes I blog about the movies I've seen, the books I've read or about the people around me. And every now and again I realise something and choose to share.

Today I had a discussion with my wife about how to motivate children and one thing let to another... inside my head... and I realised that motivation is something that is for all ages. Also, I listened to the Freakonomics podcast about 'grid' which is really insightful.

Anyhow, the discussion was about how to get kids to do what you want them to do although they don't want to do it. A lot to do about school you can imagine. But in general, a lot of my work is about getting people to do stuff that they are not really inclined to do.

Are they lacking intrinsic motivation? Well to be honest, I'm not really buying into the idea that there's something like intrinsic motivation that powers (some) people. Unless it's the motivation to stay alive. Let's be clear, 'intrinsic' means 'by its very nature'. For a more formal definition of intrinsic you should click here.

But that's not important. What is important is to figure out how to motivate your kids to do something they would rather not do but you feel that they should do... I think that's every parents challenge at some point.
The obvious thing to do is one that has the most immediate result: Reward them for doing the work. But I feel that there's two good reasons not to do this.
1. It ingrains a sense of only doing something when there's a reward.
2. It makes something you feel should be 'normal' as something that is 'special'.

So my thoughts on this have changed since recently. Not to say that I was and am always a proponent of the positive view on things. Meaning that instead of punishing undesired behaviour, you should compliment on desired behaviour.

But nowadays I try to figure out what it is that my kids want, especially what they try to achieve and try to figure out what's holding them back. That could be anything, could be a lack of time, knowledge, abilities or funds. Point in case, my oldest son wants to buy a Game PC, one that allows him to play Ark: Survival on the highest detail level without any lag. Awesome were it not that these PC's are fairly expensive. Too expensive for him to buy at this point in time and since he's to young still to have a job after school, there's not really a way for him to earn some money and save up for the PC.
One way to address this as a parent is to use his desire for a Game PC to make him get good grades in school. Not to say that he's doing poorly in school, quite the opposite, he's doing really well at school. He might do better if he studied harder. My view is that his grades are excellent but I would like him to learn how to put in some effort to achieve something. The caveat here is that if we reward him with higher grades, I'm sure that he still isn't putting in the effort but does get rewarded. So, we could reward him for putting in the time for school. Spend more hours on his homework would earn him a reward, but that's still not really helping. Why would he spend more time on his homework if he's already doing well? Valid question with no real good answer in my point of view.
But there's a different approach to it, one that I think is favourable over rewarding. That's empowering.

So, he wants a Game PC and needs some money to buy the PC. He's too young to get a job so, there's a practical problem for him there. We want him to learn to put in some effort into achieving something, but the lesson we want to teach is that in order to achieve his goals he needs to put in some effort. So instead of helping him to achieve his goal of getting the funds for his PC, I help him to be able to get the funds. Sort of teaching him to fish, instead of getting him his fish.

How does this work?

He wants to earn money and his idea is to write an App and make millions with it. Although 250 Euro would be enough for now. So I teach him how to develop an App, with the promise that I will give him a loan that he can pay back with the revenu of the App, so he doesn't need to wait for the App to make a ton of money before he can buy the PC. I know from experience that having an App and make money out of it, is not a trivial task. And him developing the App is already the effort we want him to put in, it's the lesson to be thought.
So he'll get an interest free loan that will be paid for by the proceeds of the App. And the deal is, that he needs to think carefully about the App because the better the business model behind the App, the bigger the loan he can get. Things like "why would somebody want the App?" and "How to make money with the App?" are important.

So he'll get the money for his PC, if he puts the work into it. And what do we get? A son that understands that he's got his own success in his own hands, provided he's willing to work for it.

I call this "motivation by empowerment", it's the classic "teaching to fish instead feeding fish".

So does it work? I think so, because in the past week we've spend quite a bit of work together on programming, he's doing the work, I help him when needed. He's doing it, because he understands that it will allow him to develop the App. Of course he's not complaining that much, after all he gets to spend more time on his laptop than the one hour a day he's allowed to. There's the immediate reward for you: Embrace the empowerment and you'll get rewarded. It's the short term reward with the long term reward. But he's not free to do what he wants on the laptop, nope, he has to work for his App.

Back to the real world, work. A big chunk of my day to day work is making sure that my clients change their way of working, their culture, their methods and processes. There's no point in doing it for them, build their systems, thinker about their new processes and so on. Doesn't work that way, because once you leave, your achievements leave with you. Instead I focus on the fishing and do not care about the fish. No point for me to draw conclusions, instead I help my clients to conclude. It's a matter of empowering instead of anything else.

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