Fear Tactics

Mark Upton
Mar 3, 2017

Extrinsic rewards & punishments can kill intrinsic motivation and result in gaming and other undesirable behaviour.

Perhaps it all starts with the school system. I’ve had a live example this morning with my own son and the reading demands that are imposed on him by a school system/model that has lacked collective critical thinking and reflective practice for many years. “House points” for doing your reading, stay in at lunchtime if you don’t – fear tactics that have pushed him to tell a little white lie about how much he had (or hadn’t) read. Creating stress around an activity that he had actually started to engage with and enjoy on his own terms over the Christmas holidays (inspiration came from watching the Harry Potter movies and then wanting to read the books).

It’s actually hit me harder than usual this morning – FEAR TACTICS for 8 year olds…seriously, what the fuck is going on…

(after reading this excellent article over the weekend – ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ – I’m probably more attuned than ever to this topic)

As a society, when we see behaviour we don’t like, we tend to focus on the individual – “you know you shouldn’t lie” or “Wells Fargo employees, you know you shouldn’t create false bank accounts”* – then providing some kind of useless feedback that is in essence saying “get your shit together, you useless prick”.

What rarely happens is to factor in the environment/system/context in which the individual is intertwined. For it is the interaction between person and environment that shapes behaviour, and some semblance of critical thinking in relation to the nature of environments and systems is well overdue.

Voicing the critical question “why do we continue to do what we do the way that we do it?” is an act of leadership. The harsh irony is, as we continue to worship the “heroic leader”, there is a severe lack of leadership in many systems. And perhaps these systems have become so calcified, to the point of being “locked in”, that we need to start afresh anyway…

Whether that is possible or not, it is little comfort in the short term as I ponder my role as a parent in all of this…

* “Reports are suggesting that Wells Fargo’s dodgy “sales” practices stemmed largely from the steep sales targets and job security implications for under-performance”