Lack of Motivation…? Blame it on Newton

15 September, 2015

Motivation and Teambuilding

When our business turns out poor results we have been trained to do a “route cause analysis”, to pinpoint the culprit. The recent strike-action and destructive effect unions have on the relationship between employer and employee calls for a new look at the source of our frustration.

One cannot deny the effect science has on how we relate to our world. When a scientist makes remarkable discoveries, society is eager to assimilate those into all walks of life. However this pattern does create other dilemmas like: “How do you change a school of thought once created by a revered scientist like Sir Isaac Newton?”

Newtonian-thinking created a one-sided view of the world we live in. This viewpoint or paradigm created a world where people craved for order, structure and control. A world characterised by the letter of the law, never considering the spirit of the law; where creative thinking was perceived as a threat rather than an opportunity.

The laws of nature were seen as the foundation of every scientific hypothesis. We manage things by separating things into parts and expect our world to be predictable and search for better methods of objectively perceiving the world in which we live. Newton’s model of the world characterised by materialism and reductionism (focus on things rather than relationships) was embraced by Frederick Taylor, also known as the Father of Scientific Management.

The heart of the problem lies with a command-and-control management system initiated by Frederick Taylor (The “father” of “Scientific Management”) in 1889, from which our organisations still suffer. This era heralded the beginning of assembly lines and dehumanising management practices. If you are looking for tell-tales of this paradigm, you need not look far; hierarchically structured companies executing their business in militeristic manner, obsession with job descriptions and tasks, less focus on business processes, reward schemes that manipulate the work force by using corporate carrots to trick them into better performance, etc.

The beginning of the 20th century heralded the end of Newton’s domination. Discoveries of a strange world at the sub-atomic level could not be explained by Newtonian laws, the door was opened for new ways of comprehending the universe. This new view of science practice can be regarded as a no-go for one-sidedness and makes a wealth of scientific approaches and methods possible.

According to Capra (1992: xi-xv) the new science view or paradigm has the following five criteria:

  • Holism. Prior to that there was only a partial view.
  • Networks. There was a shift from knowledge building to knowledge networks.
  • Process-directedness. There was a move from structure to process. Within the old paradigm a process was the result of forces working in separate structures. The new paradigm applies each structure as a process. Such a process could be compared to a spider-web. Wheatley (1994:140) also uses the spider-web as example when business relationships are described within the new paradigm: “… a seamless partnership, with interrelationships and mutual commitments”.
  • Subjective observation. A shift from objective science practice to epistemological science practice. The subjective way of knowledge expansion is regarded as an integral part of science practice within the new paradigm.
  • Approximated descriptions. A shift from absolute certainty to approximated approaches. The new paradigm acknowledges that all concepts, theories and findings are limited to an approximated description. Science can therefore never give a full and certain understanding of reality.

The concepts that point to a paradigm shift in certain cases show strong similarities with sociopolitical change in South Africa and other world parts, as well as certain commonalities between changes in science philosophy and management philosophy.

Change is not limited to South Africa only. Change management is also a contemporary matter that is being discussed worldwide as a result of the new science consciousness.

Together with this, our paradigm on how we should motivate our employees should be challenged.

We think we can motivate our teams by hiring a “motivational speaker”. Now ask yourself; who is motivated the guest speaker or the team? This person may psyche your team up for a couple of minutes, but by the time they are back at the grindstone all the motivational promises are long forgotten. In other words motivating someone should be assessed in terms of depth of motivation and how to sustain high levels of motivation.

The essence of motivation revolves around Locus of Control. When I was still staying with my parents I decided one day to surprise my father by mowing the lawn. He was so surprised when he arrived home from work that he offered to increase my pocket money.

Although I appreciated the gesture, I can distinctly remember a feeling of emptiness, as if the fun of mowing the lawn and the pride of doing something unconditionally was gone. Although my Dad made the offer out of goodwill he acted within a system that controlled his performance with external rewards. The moment I was offered money; a third party (money) entered into the relationship. You see, my Dad thought that money would act as a token of his appreciation. The moment money was brought into the equation; it had the following effect on me:

  1. I felt less motivated
  2. By offering me money to mow the lawn, mowing the lawn seemed to be a bad thing
  3. The surprise on his face and him being proud of me suddenly faded
  4. I felt robbed of my initiative
  5. When I mowed the lawn I experienced an Internal Locus of Control and when I was offered money for more of the same, I lost the Internal Locus of control and felt manipulated by and External Locus of Control (money).

Earning money for work done is not the issue, one must rather see money as a by-product of a job well done. You see, money or any other form of reward can only act as a short-term motivator. Hertzberg clearly points out that salaries should be regarded as a Hygiene factor and not a Motivational factor.

Human beings are motivated by fair treatment, care, being regarded as a valuable team member, opportunity to grow, etc. Fair compensation is important but should never be used to motivate someone. Incentive schemes and corporate rewards will please Frederick Taylor for you are keeping his mechanistic dehumanising practices alive…

Should you wish to discuss the content of the article with Dr Heunis please contact him on +27 12 807 0242 /

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