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07.12.2010 Understanding motivation and innovation

I have read a stack of books that I can recommend to anybody starting or possibly even a bit advanced in the art of mastering Scrum. It is easy to find a load of books that are related to Scrum and Agile and I am not going to recommend many of them. I have an interest in humans and what makes them tick. I feel that every Scrum Master should have a general interest in the human mind.

The first book I am going to recommend is Drive by Daniel H. Pink. First it goes into challenging monetary rewards as incentive for motivation and then builds a framework on top of three key aspects of intrinsic motivation: Autonomy, Feeling of Mastery and Purpose.

By feeling of mastery, Pink describes the possibility to work just a notch over your previous skill level and learn while doing without being overwhelmed. You can call this flow if you like and there are many scientific studies to emphasize the meaning of uninterrupted productive time. The aspect of purpose is the deeper meaning people get from their job. It may well be the philanthropic kind or simply loving what you are doing. Autonomy is a multifaceted feature. To help memorize the items they are four Ts: Task, Team, Time and Technique. I did use those aspects in my previous post.

In our company we are working on jump-starting our innovation. We were presented with the models that are known as Google 20% projects, 3M 15% time and Atlassian FedEx days, all of which are described in the book. I strongly think that a company following the ways of this book should at least seriously consider such practices.

The common denominator for all of the models are that they concentrate on giving a high level of autonomy for a set period of time. With all of that autonomy they provide environment for feeling mastery by giving an uninterrupted time to concentrate on a subject. The purpose aspect comes from the freedom of finally getting to work on something there is an inner drive towards. May it simply be easing the daily routine or something more altruistic.

On the four Tees there are some limitations to the time: deliver in 24h or use 20% of your time. Teaming and task come from the people doing the work and technique is so much related to the task and the team, that I would not even begin to describe it.

There is a fourth option that has existed in many hacker companies and that is the hackathon after reaching a milestone before the deadline or planning a hardening sprint which is either used for fixing things or hacking. That has the obvious connection to the R&D cycle and is disruptive if people from different teams would like to do something great together. Another hacker-friendly way is the FedEx day or Facebook hackathon where you deliver something in a 24h period of time. That goes well when you are an enthusiastic intern. Most hackers with a family would however not consider the childcare implications. As an extreme example there are interesting stories about Results Only Working Environments (ROWE) where, unsurprisingly, only the results matter.

The real beef of the book is not how to set up an innovation allocation. What really matters is to know what motivates people.