Monday, 4 January 2010

Some 2010 stuff

A couple of books that are about to appear in the UK that caught my eye.

The first is Drive by Dan Pink. Basically he appears to argue for a fairly fundamental reassessment of how we seek to motivate people. There's a WSJ interview here, and his website is here. It looks like it could either be really interesting or a lot of guff - the one-word title and the cover put me off a bit!

Obviously I'm interested in whether anyone in the remuneration field would ever take this kind of thing seriously. At a seminar last year I asked a well-known (infamous?) rem consultant who has a background in psychology whether the incentive schemes in place actually affected behaviour and got a fairly crap answer in response (something along the lines that some people are greedy). It was a strange response given that they had just stated - quite reasonably - that directors would usually do the right thing even if they could cash in by behaving poorly.

There's some emerging interest amongst a handful of investors in looking at some of these other ways of motivating people. Maybe now's the time to have a proper crack at this?

Second is Identity Economics by George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton. Here's the blurb:
Identity economics is a new way to understand people's decisions--at work, at school, and at home. With it, we can better appreciate why incentives like stock options work or don't; why some schools succeed and others don't; why some cities and towns don't invest in their futures--and much, much more.
Identity Economics bridges a critical gap in the social sciences. It brings identity and norms to economics. People's notions of what is proper, and what is forbidden, and for whom, are fundamental to how hard they work, and how they learn, spend, and save. Thus people's identity--their conception of who they are, and of who they choose to be--may be the most important factor affecting their economic lives. And the limits placed by society on people's identity can also be crucial determinants of their economic well-being.

This makes some sense to me as there does appear to be evidence that how people see themselves has an impact on how well they perform. There's a bit in Predictably Irrational, for instance, where Ariely talks about the how Asian women performed differently in tests depending on whether they were encouraged beforehand to think of their identity in terms of either ethnicity or gender.

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