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The Purpose Thing

In one of my capacities at Paperitalo Publications, I find smart, poignant, quirky, or just plain fun websites for the Nip Impressions Creative Considerations feature (http://www.nipimpressions.com/news.php?NewsSectionId=11).  A couple of months ago I shared a link to animated lectures produced for the UK charitable organization The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA) (http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/).  If you like TED talks (http://www.ted.com/), if you have a general interest in hearing bright people share new ideas, or if you want to see how professional-quality visuals can turn a good lecture into an entertaining, memorable, and effective presentation, then you will enjoy the RSA Animate series. 

In his 2010 RSA Animate presentation
(http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/04/08/rsa-animate-drive/), author Daniel Pink (http://www.danpink.com/) discusses his latest book Drive.  According to Pink, motivation is not as simple as we might imagine.  Psychology, sociology, and, economics teach that if you reward a set of behaviors, you should expect to see more of the action you desire, and if you punish certain conduct, you should expect to see less undesirable behavior.  With regards to for-profit companies, the calculus is fairly straightforward.  If you desire innovation, offer an innovation bonus; if you want more sales, offer a commission.  Recent research indicates that the carrot-and-stick approach only takes us so far.  When tasks are physical or algorithmic, bigger financial rewards result in better performance, but as soon as the tasks have a significant cognitive component, the connection between reward and performance breaks down: better incentives produce worse results.  The best use of salary is not a pay-for-performance scheme, but rather paying all employees (who are presumably qualified and good fits for their jobs) enough to make them secure, so they can concentrate on work. 

Pink goes on to describe three factors that predict better work performance: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Self-directed employees are unleashed to find innovative solutions to problems and develop new products that management had never conceived.  Mastery is so satisfying that some of the brightest technological minds in the world spend countless hours working on projects that have absolutely no financial payoff, for the sheer joy of producing something cool; Linux, Apache, and R all work under this model.  Purpose is any non-financial mission that a company might have.  Purpose is not ancillary to good business; the best places to work are those that join the profit motive with a transcendent purpose. 

Writers like Pink who focus on the modern economy have a tendency to pull their examples from high-tech firms.  Skype's purpose is "to be disruptive in the cause of making the world a better place," a passable description of providing cheap or free real-time worldwide voice and video communication. Apple's Steve Jobs wanted to "put a 'ding' in the universe." Jobs may or may not have achieved his goal, but he sold his vision magnificently and built brand loyalty than most firms covet. 

Basic manufacturing is less sexy than cutting-edge technology.  As a consumer, I don't expect producers of linerboard and tissue to achieve world peace, I just want them to be make affordable and effective products.  But if purpose proves important to building businesses that are profitable and provide satisfying jobs, where should pulp and paper companies turn?  Sustainability, environmental protection, and conservation are natural places to look for purpose.  Cellulose is a renewable resource; pulp and paper companies are strategically positioned to lead the charge for greater ecological responsibility and enhanced corporate citizenship.

In fact, the Light Green Machine Institute mission weds the purpose and profit motives in just the way Pink seems to imagine.  (See

In one of my capacities at Paperitalo Publications, I find smart, poignant, quirky, or just plain fun websites for the Nip Impressions Creative Considerations feature (http://www.nipimpressions.com/news.php?NewsSectionId=11).  A couple of months ago I shared a link to animated lectures produced for the UK charitable organization The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA) (http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/).  If you like TED talks (http://www.ted.com/), if you have a general interest in hearing bright people share new ideas, or if you want to see how professional-quality visuals can turn a good lecture into an entertaining, memorable, and effective presentation, then you will enjoy the RSA Animate series. 

In his 2010 RSA Animate presentation
(http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/04/08/rsa-animate-drive/), author Daniel Pink (http://www.danpink.com/) discusses his latest book Drive.  According to Pink, motivation is not as simple as we might imagine.  Psychology, sociology, and, economics teach that if you reward a set of behaviors, you should expect to see more of the action you desire, and if you punish certain conduct, you should expect to see less undesirable behavior.  With regards to for-profit companies, the calculus is fairly straightforward.  If you desire innovation, offer an innovation bonus; if you want more sales, offer a commission.  Recent research indicates that the carrot-and-stick approach only takes us so far.  When tasks are physical or algorithmic, bigger financial rewards result in better performance, but as soon as the tasks have a significant cognitive component, the connection between reward and performance breaks down: better incentives produce worse results.  The best use of salary is not a pay-for-performance scheme, but rather paying all employees (who are presumably qualified and good fits for their jobs) enough to make them secure, so they can concentrate on work. 

Pink goes on to describe three factors that predict better work performance: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Self-directed employees are unleashed to find innovative solutions to problems and develop new products that management had never conceived.  Mastery is so satisfying that some of the brightest technological minds in the world spend countless hours working on projects that have absolutely no financial payoff, for the sheer joy of producing something cool; Linux, Apache, and R all work under this model.  Purpose is any non-financial mission that a company might have.  Purpose is not ancillary to good business; the best places to work are those that join the profit motive with a transcendent purpose. 

Writers like Pink who focus on the modern economy have a tendency to pull their examples from high-tech firms.  Skype's purpose is "to be disruptive in the cause of making the world a better place," a passable description of providing cheap or free real-time worldwide voice and video communication. Apple's Steve Jobs wanted to "put a 'ding' in the universe." Jobs may or may not have achieved his goal, but he sold his vision magnificently and built brand loyalty than most firms covet. 

Basic manufacturing is less sexy than cutting-edge technology.  As a consumer, I don't expect producers of linerboard and tissue to achieve world peace, I just want them to be make affordable and effective products.  But if purpose proves important to building businesses that are profitable and provide satisfying jobs, where should pulp and paper companies turn?  Sustainability, environmental protection, and conservation are natural places to look for purpose.  Cellulose is a renewable resource; pulp and paper companies are strategically positioned to lead the charge for greater ecological responsibility and enhanced corporate citizenship.

In fact, the Light Green Machine Institute mission weds the purpose and profit motives in just the way Pink seems to imagine.  (See http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=eeh4nvbab&oeidk=a07e557hfjrf1e0104e for details on the 3rd Annual Light Green Machine Institute Conference.)"Reducing papermachine weight by half by 2025" will result in a smaller ecological footprint for paper production while also helping firms employing such technology to be more flexible, better able to meet market preferences, and, thus, more profitable.

What's your purpose?

for details on the 3rd Annual Light Green Machine Institute Conference.)"Reducing papermachine weight by half by 2025" will result in a smaller ecological footprint for paper production while also helping firms employing such technology to be more flexible, better able to meet market preferences, and, thus, more profitable.

What's your purpose?

***

Travis holds a Ph.D. in public policy from the Lyndon B. Johson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA.  He resides in Golden, Colorado, USA.


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