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The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

August - 2007 - issue > People Manager

Staying out of the Great Jackass

C. Mahalingam
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
C. Mahalingam
This was a famous exercise that Prof Levinson carried out in his lecture sessions. He would ask the executives to close their eyes for a moment, and to form a picture in their mind’s eye with a carrot at one end and a stick at the other. When these executives have done so, he would ask them to describe the central image in that picture. Guess what? Most frequently the image was that of a jackass!

Using this as a metaphor, Prof. Levinson coined the phrase ‘Great Jackass Fallacy’. This perhaps characterizes the motivational philosophy for most managers wherein the conscious assumption behind the reward-punishment model is that managers are dealing with jackasses who must be manipulated and controlled. We see this Carrot & Stick theory of motivation that treats subordinates as Jackasses widely prevalent even today.

Self-fulfilling Prophesy:
The characteristics of a jackass are stubbornness, stupidity, willfulness, and unwillingness to go where someone is driving him to. And by interesting coincidence, these are also the characteristics of the unmotivated employee. Unfortunately, this fallacy can operate like a self-fulfilling prophesy when people respond to the managers’ carrots and protect themselves from their sticks. As organizational history would vouch for, this theory has done more harm than good to the managers and the people they manage. Management curricula that are still archaic and taught as such in business schools tend to perpetuate this fallacy even in the so-called professionally trained managers.

Motivation Reality:
John R Throop quotes in his article titled “Mastering the ABCs of Organizations”, a study of computer engineers who were asked to rank top 10 factors that provided the highest degree of motivation in their jobs that ‘the programmers’ top three were: full appreciation for work done; feeling that they were “in” on things; and, sympathetic help with personal problems! In contrast, their managers, when asked what these factors would be, gave rather different priorities: compensation, working conditions, and fair discipline!


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