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Creative Career Path

World in Reflection2012.12.18

    The Book of Common Prayer contains a powerful reminder that “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”


    While this is certainly intended for reflection on our behavior, more or less in moral or religious terms, it also raises a question about what we really ought to be doing. Not only what we do, but why we do it, and that is a question that few people can answer with conviction.


    Ought is used to indicate obligation, advisability, or desirability. You ought to pay your taxes. You ought to get plenty of sleep. You ought to have been at the party. Each contains nuances which indicate that a change in behavior is or would have been better, either to avoid consequences or to gain benefits.


    We are under pressure to improve from all directions, at work, at home, and even from our friends. A Chinese proverb has it that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. This complicates the matter, because then ought is not just about what or why, but for whom.


    Oughts can seem absolute, but often they are quite relative to time and place as in, “you ought to wear a necktie.” Oughts can be urgent as in getting to a meeting on time, or long-term as in planning a strategy for the year ahead. Oughts can be religiously, socially, or self-imposed, but they are unavoidable. Try to get through a single day without facing one ought or another.


    Oughts are often unpleasant, because they imply criticism and pressure to change your behavior. Oughts often trigger the opposite behavior, by increasing the resistance to change, as any parent or manager knows from experience. At best they result in a compromise, temporary or partial compliance under pressure.


    The origin of the word ought is from the word to owe, hence the nuance of obligation. It exerts control from the outside, and often sows seeds of rebellion. I know many people working at seemingly enviable positions in companies, who secretly confide that they are thinking about looking for a new job. It isn't the work that they find unpleasant, but the relentless sense of oughts and obligations coming from bosses, colleagues, or customers, that simply wears them down.


    Oughts at work come in many forms, competencies, evaluations, reprimands, overtime, and extra assignments. If you don't like it, there are plenty of people who would happily fill your shoes.


    I propose that we move away from the extrinsic motivation in the word ought, towards a more intrinsic form of motivation. A better word might be sought, which is rooted in the word to seek.


    An excellent book to understand motivation at work is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink. He uncovers what is wrong with the traditional approach to motivation, that is the use of rewards and punishment, the carrot and the stick, which is how most companies have operated since the last century; a method that was originally designed for work horses, who probably didn't like it any better. However, Psychology has established that externally driven motivation is far less effective at producing results, and less sustainable than internally driven motivation.


    In his book and in his popular talk The Puzzle of Motivation on, Pink shows that intrinsic motivation consists of three elements: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. People perform better, longer, and more happily when they are given freedom on how to accomplish a task, opportunity to engage with the process, and a sense of purpose beyond the task. They seek to improve because their environment supports them. This is more motivating than being told what to do under the shadow of a carrot and a stick.


    It follows that we will enjoy our work more and achieve better results if we can work with intrinsic motivation, joy of the task itself. This is something which can be supported and encouraged from without, but ultimately must come from within. Achieving ownership of a task is the best way to return to the roots of ought, which is to own, to buy in to the task and make it your own. In this sense we can all be free agents, self-driven and seeking improvement without obligation.


    As you consider your current career, or seek to make a change, look closely at rewards and remuneration, but don't overlook the fundamental reasons that will keep you happy and productive at work. Then return to the Book of Common Prayer and focus on doing the things you really ought to be doing.



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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