18 July 2018 – Long, long ago, in a [place] far, far away. …
When I was Chief Editor at business-to-business magazine Test & Measurement World, I had a long, friendly though heated, discussion with one of our advertising-sales managers. He suggested making the compensation we paid our editorial staff contingent on total advertising sales. He pointed out that what everyone came to work for was to get paid, and that tying their pay to how well the magazine was doing financially would give them an incentive to make decisions that would help advertising sales, and advance the magazine’s financial success.
He thought it was a great idea, but I disagreed completely. I pointed out that, though revenue sharing was exactly the right way to compensate the salespeople he worked with, it was exactly the wrong way to compensate creative people, like writers and journalists.
Why it was a good idea for his salespeople I’ll leave for another column. Today, I’m interested in why it was not a good idea for my editors.
In the heat of the discussion I didn’t do a deep dive into the reasons for taking my position. Decades later, from the standpoint of a semi-retired whatever-you-call-my-patchwork-career, I can now sit back and analyze in some detail the considerations that led me to my conclusion, which I still think was correct.
We’ll start out with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed that healthy human beings have a certain number of needs, and that these needs are arranged in a hierarchy. At the top is “self actualization,” which boils down to a need for creativity. It’s the need to do something that’s never been done before in one’s own individual way. At the bottom is the simple need for physical survival. In between are three more identified needs people also seek to satisfy.
Maslow pointed out that people seek to satisfy these needs from the bottom to the top. For example, nobody worries about security arrangements at their gated community (second level) while having a heart attack that threatens their survival (bottom level).
Overlaid on Maslow’s hierarchy is Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, which he published in his 1959 book The Motivation to Work. Herzberg’s theory divides Maslow’s hierarchy into two sections. The lower section is best described as “hygiene factors.” They are also known as “dissatisfiers” or “demotivators” because if they’re not met folks get cranky.
Basically, a person needs to have their hygiene factors covered in order have a level of basic satisfaction in life. Not having any of these needs satisfied makes them miserable. Having them satisfied doesn’t motivate them at all. It makes ’em fat, dumb and happy.
The upper-level needs are called “motivators.” Not having motivators met drives an individual to work harder, smarter, etc. It energizes them.
My position in the argument with my ad-sales friend was that providing revenue sharing worked at the “Safety and Security” level. Editors were (at least in my organization) paid enough that they didn’t have to worry about feeding their kids and covering their bills. They were talented people with a choice of whom they worked for. If they weren’t already being paid enough, they’d have been forced to go work for somebody else.
Creative people, my argument went, are motivated by non-monetary rewards. They work at the upper “motivator” levels. They’ve already got their physical needs covered, so to motivate them we have to offer rewards in the “motivator” realm.
We did that by pointing out that they belonged to the staff of a highly esteemed publication. We talked about how their writings helped their readers excel at their jobs. We entered their articles in professional competitions with awards for things like “Best Technical Article.” Above all, we talked up the fact that ours was “the premier publication in the market.”
These were all non-monetary rewards to motivate people who already had their basic needs (the hygiene factors) covered.
I summarized my compensation theory thusly: “We pay creative people enough so that they don’t have to go do something else.”
That gives them the freedom to do what they would want to do, anyway. The implication is that creative people want to do stuff because it’s something they can do that’s worth doing.
In other words, we don’t pay creative people to work. We pay them to free them up so they can work. Then, we suggest really fun stuff for them to work at.
What does this all mean for society in general?
First of all, if you want there to be a general level of satisfaction within your society, you’d better take care of those hygiene factors for everybody!
That doesn’t mean the top 1%. It doesn’t mean the top 80%, either. Or, the top 90%. It means everybody!
If you’ve got 99% of everybody covered, that still leaves a whole lot of people who think they’re getting a raw deal. Remember that in the U.S.A. there are roughly 300 million people. If you’ve left 1% feeling ripped off, that’s 3 million potential revolutionaries. Three million people can cause a lot of havoc if motivated.
Remember, at the height of the 1960s Hippy movement, there were, according to the most generous estimates, only about 100,000 hipsters wandering around. Those hundred-thousand activists made a huge change in society in a very short period of time.
Okay. If you want people invested in the status quo of society, make sure everyone has all their hygiene factors covered. If you want to know how to do that, ask Bernie Sanders.
Assuming you’ve got everybody’s hygiene factors covered, does that mean they’re all fat, dumb, and happy? Do you end up with a nation of goofballs with no motivation to do anything?
Remember those needs Herzberg identified as “motivators” in the upper part of Maslow’s pyramid?
The hygiene factors come into play only when they’re not met. The day they’re met, people stop thinking about who’ll be first against the wall when the revolution comes. Folks become fat, dumb and happy, and stay that way for about an afternoon. Maybe an afternoon and an evening if there’s a good ballgame on.
The next morning they start thinking: “So, what can we screw with next?”
What they’re going to screw with next is anything and everything they damn well please. Some will want to fly to the Moon. Some will want to outdo Michaelangelo‘s frescos for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They’re all going to look at what they think was the greatest stuff from the past, and try to think of ways to do better, and to do it in their own way.
That’s the whole point of “self actualization.”
The Renaissance didn’t happen because everybody was broke. It happened because they were already fat, dumb and happy, and looking for something to screw with next.