Thursday, June 17, 2010

Competition as a Motivator.

Competition is natural. It is the most natural thing in this universe. I wasn't paying attention when it was taught in school, but I think all physical objects compete for physical space.

I suspect that librarians won't admit to enjoying competition. Or maybe they only admit to promoting friendly competition during "game night" at the library. And they smile to themselves because they are unaware that the little group of old ladies who come every week have a $500 pot going on who can hit the most bullseyes on Wii Darts. Friendly competition still pits one against the other; it just sounds friendlier.

I wrote a fake story about game night competition here.

That's probably why kids don't participate in the awards program for the President's Council on Physical Fitness. Because it's a competition. And parents don't like when their kids lose. Although I'd read somewhere that it was because President Ford tried to submit an award requirement for "Tripping." But when I was in elementary school, we used to win badges we could sew onto our school sweaters. I felt like crap because I never got one. Our coach made us do 1,000 sit-ups (yes, that's 991 more than I can do right now) one day and I'm hoping that was for a badge an not because he was a former Nazi.

But we promote competition every day. We loan books and we give them due dates. This means that we force slower readers to learn to read faster. We force them to compete against a time limit to finish that book.

Yes, we try to be fair: we extended the normal borrowing period for those last two Harry Potter's because it didn't seem fair to give a kid only two weeks to get through 750 pages. Otherwise when asked about the events from Book 7, a kid might say, "I'm not sure. It was something about, VoldemortMinistryofMagicSnape Death Eatersdestruction Harry RonHermionequestVoldemort'sfourHorcruxes… but I can't remember because I had to read it so fast."

We have Summer Reading programs where our patrons compete for our limited supply of prizes. They read a few books and win a BOGO coupon for Rudy's Hoagie Palace. But every year those run out first. Because Rudy makes a damn good Hoagie.

We compete against ourselves, against past performance. I may run to beat a set time. Okay, not me because I wouldn't be caught dead running, but imagine a different person who runs. I (yes, imagine again a different person) may strive for better grades. I (different person) practice to get better at lots of things.

And getting "better" is just competition against one's self. There is nothing inherently wrong with competition. Without competition, the smarter, yet arguably less athletic sperm that tricked the quicker, stupider sperm by shouting, "Go back! It's just a Victoria's Secret catalog," could not have produced us, the librarians.

Yet, we look on competition negatively. Our library departments compete for funds against the police or fire departments. We compete for money from the book and supply budgets. We compete for meeting room space. Competition sucks when resources are slim. Competition is only fun when there's an open bar.

But think about how different things compete for your time. I continually ask, "Is this worth my time?"

Or think about how you promote library programs when you begin to make that flyer and wonder, "How do I convince them that it's worth their time? I'll add more clip art!"

So let's just pretend that Competition is a natural motivator in that we compete for space, time and money. It is not artificial. So how can we use this to our benefit. And remember, we've already done this in the library by offering shorter loan periods for high-demand materials or by awarding a prize to a "winner." This is competition.

The example from the "motivation video" in the last post says that organizations need to provide more purposeful autonomy. We need to give the freedom to create without (too many) conditions.

The video dude calls this freedom, but I say it's still competition. We compete against our reputations and against our abilities. When we have this freedom, we ask the question, "How is the best way to use my skills during this free time?"

And because what you produce will be seen by everyone, you're not going to use that time updating your Twitter background.

So what would you do in your library? What could you bring to your boss to convince her that giving you more freedom is a good thing? What ideas for change do you have?

Now, again, I think this is an awesome idea. As the boss, I will give you complete freedom to do whatever you want during one work day. And whatever you do will remain in play for one month. And next month, we'll do it again. And the only form of competition you need to overcome is your own satisfaction that you did a good job.

Here is the example: You do what you want on Friday. You can change a display or put all the science fiction in the front of the library. But you can't leave a mess. You need to get this thing done during the one day. Or you can put up a poster or find a place for the new library cat litter box or whatever. You can wrap all the mysteries in brown paper and put them on a shelf called "Mystery Mysteries."

But if it doesn't work; if people say it sucks, you need to be open enough to acknowledge that and slink away with your tail between your legs. But if people like it, you get the satisfaction of knowing that your idea worked.

Now should we credit these ideas? Like in the store where you see a shelf that says, "Staff Picks" and each associate has a book or movie next to his name? If you suck, everyone will know.

I believe this is competition. It's competition for your time. It's competition between what you do every day and what you feel you should be doing. It's competition against perceived (or real) limitations.

Because (hopefully) you will do a good job. And all your coworkers will also do good jobs. Because this is for as many people as I can get involved.

There is no money for your idea and you need to do the work to put your idea into practice. And your creation will live for the rest of the month, or until our library patrons band together with torches and pitchforks and tear it down.

This is just one idea. I already have lots of freedom here at work. And I think I give my staff lots of freedom. Because they know that I expect their best, within reason. Hell, I hired them; how good can they be?