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Motivation by Fear vs. Motivation by Freedom

A few weeks ago I wrote about why the 8 hour work day doesn’t make sense. It led to quite a discussion in the comments which I really enjoyed.  Mark Lawrence from LifestlyeIgnition spent a few days with me last week and was really shocked at how I live my life. While I do touch to some degree on it here when I talk about my surf sessions and long days at the beach, I guess I never realized how good I really have it. If you come to visit me you’ll find yourself basking in the warm California sun and taking in scenery like that above. Fortunately I have a great job that as the Director of Social Media/Editor in Chief of Flightster that enables me to do all this.  As I thought about how I ended up here, I realized that the key  component to all of this was freedom to operate. So let’s look at this and contrast it with different ways that people can manage and motivate others.

Managing by Fear: If you remember the movie Office Space, you might remember this great line where Peter (the guy trying to get fired) says “If you motivate people by fear, they will do just enough to get by and not get fired.” Yet, what’s odd is a good amount of jobs in the corporate world are driven by using fear as a motivator. When I quit my job in two weeks, I distinctly remember the “talk” that my boss had with me. He was trying to instill fear in me so I would work harder. I quit the next day. Clearly motivation by fear is an extremely ineffective strategy. Just think about this scenario which could be the  byproduct of an organization where the philosophy is to manage by fear:

Do you think that this organization is going to create groundbreaking, game changing ideas? My first job out of college  was for a company like this. This was the byproduct:

Managing by Freedom: I want to contrast with my current boss, the CEO of Flightster. For the first few months of my job I was terrified that I wasn’t getting any emails from my boss on a regular basis. Then he told me that he wouldn’t  email me every single day unless something in particular was an issue. So far the only major email I’ve ever received was a request to remove an article that might be offensive to some people but to still pay the writer. It’s not to say I don’t receive any emails, but mostly they are about me bouncing ideas off of him that I think could be interesting. Our CEO has given me and the design team I work with quite a bit of free reign to drive the direction of this project.  As the editor in chief of Flightster, I’ve been given the freedom to operate. (I should also mention I have an amazing team of people I work with)

But let’s look deeper at this. Flightster is something I do three days a week. But because of my freedom to operate I’m continually thinking about how I can create massive amounts of value for Flightster.  Many of the ideas that I’ve generated for Flightster are the byproduct of the 100’s of interviews I’ve conducted. When I read things for how I might grow my personal projects, I also think about how they might apply to Flightster. On the days I don’t have to be in the office I’m up at 6am digging through new ideas in my RSS reader that might make sense. I feel compelled to go above and beyond so I can bring the best ideas to everything that I do. The results:

This is all the byproduct of the freedom to operate. Nobody is asking me or telling me to do any of this. An organization that motivates by fear will never reach its full potential. An organization that motivates by freedom will change the rules of the game and set new standards. Which one would you choose?

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