Drive: Motivation at Work in the Knowledge Economy

I've been thinking about what "work" is recently.

An organisation I worked at for over 4 years was one of the high profile quangos that is being shut by the coalition government. I worked hard there, I believed in what we did in my little corner of the universe. I learnt a lot. So I've been taking this talk of quango "non-jobs" quite personally.

I've also come back from maternity leave into this new climate (do I get points for mentioning "the climate" as if its the weather?). Nearly a year off has given me a fresh perspective on what I do in my day job.

At a big work meeting last week several things got me thinking.

  • Talking about people's time as "resource" can blind us to the fact that this is about line managers agreeing that people can spend their time at work doing particular things. its about decisions and about doing things. "resource" might be a rather dangerous shorthand in our talk.
  • A keynote speaker spoke about leadership, and said things like "give your people a sense of purpose", and "people copy what they see". I found it uncomfortably patronising and it just didn't reflect the world I work in, a world of intelligent people who don't need leading, they just need managing, as in, given the time, space and mandate to do things.
  • A little bout of existential angst about what the h*ll is it I do in my job anyway? I don't *make* things! I sort of … make things happen, kind of, if people let me, I create spaces for good things to happen. I think? And I stop bad things happening.Or try to.
  • I've noticed some references to how to do staff development when there is no budget, and I've been hearing about unconferences, barcamps, peer learning. And realising I've had little formal "training" in the last 5 years, but I've learnt lots, and I've acted on it, and I need to digest it. I'm a knowledge worker, learning and managing knowledge is a core part of my job. I don't care much about certificates but I do want to feel I'm progressing with my understanding.

So …

With all this muddling my head on the way home day I spotted an interesting looking book at the station shop, so went to look it up. What timing!

"Drive" by Daniel Pink

We want: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. Yes, I do. Even better, there's one of those fantastic RSA Animate films to accompany his talk. It even mentions open source. It made me punch the air with delight. WATCH IT!


3 thoughts on “Drive: Motivation at Work in the Knowledge Economy

  1. I went to a presentation once (I don’t remember who was giving it – I maybe wasn’t blogging at the time) who said the role of the academic “was to have interesting conversations”. When I asked what I do, I’m usually stuck for an answer (“Play with web toys” is the flippant default, or maybe “paddle in the future that’s around us”); but it seems to me that as a “knowledge worker” having interesting conversations comes pretty close… though I suppose at the end of the day, interesting things or changes to the way people do things should result from those conversations? (ie the conversations need “outcomes”..?!;-)
    As to people as a resource, I think that quite often people are most useful as resources for “point tasks” – i.e. 5 minutes to an hour of their time can save you that many times over… But if you spend you whole day helping people out with 5 minute-1 hour tasks, maybe over coffee, and someone asks what it is that you do, the answer is probably hard to find…? “Had a few interesting conversations”, maybe…?

  2. I agree with all that you say, although I slightly disagree that your definition that ‘giving people the space, time and resource’ to think is good management. I think this is actually great leadership, and the very core of the sort of person you want up front and at the spearhead of an organisation like ours. Unfortunately, the speaker at JIF seemed particularly misfocused and patronising in his definitions of ‘leadership’. We’ve actually been really lucky to have a very sensible person talking about leadership on the course some of us have been on and I hope they will make her materials available to the wider exec as it may water down some of nasty taste left in your mouth 🙂
    I too get very frustrated at being lumped in with the ‘non-job’ conversations, particularly given the hours and commitment you see from some many people within JISC. I think things like blogs are really important places where we can show our value and i do think they are gaining more importance for non-academics like us as a replacement to the concept of a peer-reviewed journal. A comment from @psychmedia on your blog must be as good a rating as an peer-review for Nature 😉 So maybe this builds on what Tony says – we have to keep having conversations but also being really open about those conversations and where we are having impact through them?

  3. Amber, I think the place where we work does the autonomy, mastery and purpose thing quite well, although it could probably be better. If you think about the concepts in terms of how universities operate it’s quite interesting. The whole research ethos is based on these giving the researcher the independent space to pursue their research goals – it is what Daniel Pink is talking about taken to the nth degree. But elsewhere within universities I sense the situation is much less mature – teachers, admin staff, developers and middle management have much less room to innovate and define their own work. I suppose this is one of the issues that people like us, with our strange difficult-to-define jobs, have to tackle.
    In terms of leadership, I like what Nicole says. A really inspiring leader can take a team to new places they hadn’t thought of going to before; whereas a good manager will might take them to good places, but they are places that were already in the project plan. Ideally, you need both. One to inspire ideas, and the other to ensure they are executed. Get the balance wrong either way, and the innovation does not quite work.

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