April 18, 2008
Although I have written about this many times before on this blog, we have created a formal article on “The Performance Paradox.” This is part of an eBook being published by 21 professional speakers.
You can find this, and a dozen other articles in my “innovation articles” section of the website.
December 14, 2007
Every year at this time, Chuck Frey at innovationtools.com asks experts/readers for the most important lesson learned during 2007 regarding innovation, creativity or brainstorming. Here is my response:
Over the past couple of years, I have observed something I call “The Performance Paradox.” This paradox looks at the relationship between motivation (goals, targets, and management) and performance (physical, intellectual and creative performance). Interestingly, the relationship between motivation and performance is not linear. It is not even exponential. It is parabolic.
Low motivation equals low performance. I’m sure this comes as no shock. As motivation increases, performance increases…to a point. The sweet spot of performance. Then, as you become more goal obsessed and task driven, performance paradoxically decreases.
This paradox holds true in all areas of performance including physical and mental performance. However, the paradox is most pronounced for creative endeavors. Goals increase stress and fixate employees on the future rather than the present. It has been proven that creativity diminishes when individuals are rewarded (externally motivated) for doing their work.
Another interesting component to the Paradox is the fact that people will take great risks to minimize (or reduce) their pain/losses, yet will play it safe when the option is to increase their pleasure/gains.
When your organization’s change/innovation plans are utopian visions of a grandiose future, your employees move to the wrong end of the performance curve: high motivation, low performance. They become cynical about success and feel as though you are not addressing their present moment pains and frustrations. Instead, fix immediate problems first. Then begin to address, more strategic visions.
For too long, well intended organizations have used the wrong motivation tools for creating cultures of innovation.
An article by me on The Performance Paradox is schedule to be published by the American Management Association in early 2008
July 3, 2007
At a recent workshop on creativity, I discussed “the performance paradox” – the concept that trying harder produces poorer results.
Afterwards, one executive in the audience came up to me and told me his own story. He said…
“When I was a kid, I went to summer camp. One of our daily activities was swimming. We were told to swim our laps as fast as possible. As we did, the camp counselors timed our speed. We did this over and over, each and every day.
“As expected, our lap times improved the more we practiced. However, about half-way through the summer, our improvements stopped. No matter how hard we tried, we could not go any faster.
“It was at that point that the counselors told us they would no longer evaluate us on our speed. Instead they were going to rate us based on the quality of our stroke. We discovered afterwards that we were still being timed. Surprisingly, by focusing on style rather than speed, we all went significantly faster. When we stopped trying to go faster, we went faster.”
Reduced performance is often the result of focusing on a “goal” rather than being “present.”
In what areas of life can you improve YOUR performance by focusing on what is in front of you rather than worrying about the result?
Where, in the past, have you improved your performance by being present?
May 6, 2007
In the early 1900s, Robert Yerkes and J. D. Dodson developed the aptly named Yerkes-Dodson Law. The premise is that performance increases relative to motivation (they call it “arousal”) only to a point, after which performance drops. It is typically drawn as an inverted U-shaped curve.
You will notice that I superimposed three “goal” concepts on this graph to give you a sense of how they (roughly) relate.
If you are goal-less, you have no sense of direction and no motivation. Therefore, your performance is low. This is not surprising.
As your motivation increases, your performance increases. Being goal-free – having a sense of direction and purpose, without specific deadlines and limitations – can increase performance…to a point.
Then, as you become goal-driven, performance paradoxically decreases. Goals increase stress and focus you on the future rather than the present.
This phenomenon has been documented in numerous places throughout this blog. Race-car pit crews who increase performance when they are not worried about the stop watch. Students who perform better on exams when they are not as focused on grades. Sales people who sell more when they are not driven by sales targets.
Yerkes and Dodson suggest that different types of tasks require different levels of arousal (to use their word). To improve concentration, intellectually challenging tasks require lower levels of arousal for optimal performance while physically demanding tasks require higher levels. This may explains why professional athletes tend to be more goal-driven. However, even then, goals can limit performance. Listen to my interview with Dr. Doug Gardner, former sports psychology consultant to the Boston Red Sox.
Goal-Free Living is NOT about eliminating your goals. You can have goals and still perform at optimal levels. They key is to have the RIGHT goals (ones that “pull” you forward and don’t create stress) and be PRESENT to what you are doing (being detached from the desired outcomes).
Do you have examples of where you performed at optimal levels by freeing yourself from the stranglehold of rigid goals?