Driven to Run

Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.

Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Two books I borrowed from Aki.

Drive is about what motivates people, but even more, it's about what demotivates people. The best way to demomotivate? Take something a person does for the joy of it, and pay them to do it. Getting paid a salary isn't inherently demotivating, but things like giving people a bonus for reaching a sales target or giving a kid a candy bar for completing a homework assignment are inherently demotivating.

Author Pink emphasizes that the basis of his argument is not philosophical, but scientific: over and over, the data show that most of what organizations do to motivate people has the opposite effect, and that most bonus and compensation schemes are destructively counterproductive. People give less blood when you pay them for it. Test scores fall when you reward good scores. Sales force performance falls in the face of quarterly targets. Over and over and over. Ouch.

Pink concedes that some jobs just aren't very much fun, and are going to be done by people who don't enjoy them very much, but even here, he suggests that such jobs can be less dreary than typical if attention is paid to what people find satisfaction in.

What's the connection to a book on ultramarathon running and minimalist footwear? Born to Run is about these things, but also why people run ultramarathon distances. McDougall makes an interesting point on motivation: when American marathon sponsorship enabled runners to make a living running marathons, the effect on performance was rapid and dramatic: while world marathon times got significantly better, marathon times by Americans actually got worse. McDougall argues that turning marathon running into a job caused the performance drop. Pink would approve.

McDougall's book is about what supports running, both biomechanically and psychologically. He describes people for whom running is an escape, a salvation, a way of life, or all of these. Mostly, running happened to people who saw themselves as more than only a runner: nurse, farmer, surf bum, writer, and so on.

I have a little experience in amateur endurance sports. The rewards are the satisfaction of doing the thing, and maybe a bit of ribbon. Getting paid to do it would be very strange, perhaps like getting paid to smile, or getting paid to pray.

These books describe a world that is different than many people think they live in, and maybe a world different than many people want to live in. It is perhaps comforting to believe that motivating people is just pushing the right buttons. The evidence is that the human psyche is much slipperier than that. But isn't it more noble to be motivated best by a desire to do a thing well, just for its own sake?

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