What motivates us to work hard

<— Nope, that’s not the secret.

I was sent this video by a colleague in the environmental field, after a long talk about a particularly difficult project I’m on and what keeps me engaged in it. I recommend you watch it – if only for fun! The video features an artist illustrating the results of a series of scientific studies, and just watching that is an education in entertaining and engaging communication.

There are a number of researchers at MIT, Caltech, and a variety of other institutions who study economics, social behavior, game theory and related disciplines using college students and various incentives, typically, but not always, small amounts of money. In this study, people were promised increasing amounts of money based on their performance at a variety of types of tasks. It turned out that money was not a motivator for most tasks, except for those that were purely rote or mechanical in nature. Once even the smallest amount of thinking was involved, other motivators become far more important.

You might think that this study was skewed by involving a bunch of idealistic grad students with possibly not that much need for money. So they tried it again, in rural India. And got the same results. A bunch of other studies corroborate the findings. So what are the three top motivators that prompt people to do a good or even outstanding job? You’ll have to watch the video to see (it’s worth it). All I can say is, it works for me.

Tips for expanding time

Every now and then I read a book and some concept in it really sticks with me. This time it was “The Divine Circle of Ladies Making Mischief” by Dolores Stewart Riccio. In this book are a circle of 5 women, and each of them has various “talents”. It’s a series, and in this book it comes out that one of them seems to have the ability of expanding time to encompass whatever she has to do – rather than the other way around (doing only what we think we have time for). In the book there may be some magickal means at play; however, when pressed, she gives only one explanation for her inexplicably prodigious output.

She explains that we spend too much time thinking about what to do, or how to avoid doing it, and not enough time just doing it. She goes on to suggest immediately beginning whatever it is that needs doing, without giving it even a moment’s thought – because those moments get ahold of you, and before you know it, you’ve spent half an hour avoiding doing it, or thinking of all the other things that maybe you should be doing instead, or what have you – none of which gets anything done. Could it be that simple?

I’ve been thinking about this off and on ever since. We live in a world where distractions are greater than ever. Scientists have found that there really isn’t any such thing as multi-tasking, as the conscious brain can only focus on one thing at a time. People don’t get more done, in fact, it takes time to switch between tasks and they actually get less done due to the refocusing time, however slight, that occurs each time the mind moves from one thing to another – not to mention the mistakes that get made due to lack of concentration. And this all assumes that you’re doing anything at all in the first place.

The other day I was driving to a meeting and my mind was bouncing around between three topics, two work-related and one personal. I realized at some point that my thinking was totally useless – I wasn’t staying on any one topic long enough to get anywhere, and I wasn’t paying attention to my driving. A multi-tasking failure if ever there was one. This brings up the other half of what I believe to be the two rules of expanding time:

1) When you have time to do something, do the first thing that comes to mind, without a second’s thought. Don’t think about whether you should do it, if there is something more important to do, etc. This just gives your mind time to come up with ways of procrastinating. That thing is most likely coming to mind first because it needs to get done, but often it isn’t getting done because there’s something difficult or unpleasant about it, or it’s a big job. Just do it. Trust that there will be plenty of time later in the day to do anything else that needs to be done. Now you are not wasting time getting started or procrastinating, and your available time is expanding. The job will take just as much time no matter how long you dither around getting started, and that makes it seem to take much longer than it really does.

2) While you are doing a task, think about that task, and only that task. This is really hard. We are programmed to think about many different things at once, the next item on the list, what our co-worker said yesterday, what may happen at work tomorrow, etc. Don’t – give your task its full attention. Give yourself reassurance that all those things are not important now and can be set aside. There is a lifting of responsibility that happens when you say this to yourself that is rather nice. Just say “I’m making dinner now, I don’t need to think about that until later.” Be present and mindful in each task. Take the time to savor the smells of cooking, to get involved in the details of a project so that it gets done right the first time, to drive carefully. Now your time expands because you are not trying to multitask and your brain is not having to refocus continually from one thing to another. You won’t forget what you were doing, or where you were on it, or be tempted to timewaste for a while reading e-mail. If something else is really intruding on your consciousness that you think is important to remember, write down that note or task to come back to later.

As soon as you are done with one task, do the next one that comes to mind. Continue throughout the day like this, and it is amazing how fast things get done. And yes, this is not just for work and chores. Your next thing may be a book you’ve been wanting to read, a yoga or stretch break, or your morning walk through the neighborhood. Be present and mindful in those activities also, rather than letting your mind drift to the next unpleasant task. Then these breaks and fun activities will be much more enjoyable and rejuvenating.

Richland, WA

Hanford Reach It’s a strange town, home of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, my home away from home while facilitating meetings of the Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council. Their mission – to assess injuries to natural resources associated with the Hanford site, calculated damages associated with those injuries, and on behalf of the public trust, restore those injuries to the extent possible.

There is no other small-town airport I know of where all the large ads on the walls are for mega-laboratories and engineering firms – Fleur, Pacific Northwest Laboratories, Parsons Engineering. Walls full of smiling scientists and hard-hatted engineers. Looking around in the airport, crew-cut engineers and federal bureaucrats mingle with cowboy-booted farmers and field-hands.

Driving into town, buildings are named after CH2M Hill, Battelle, Dept. of Energy. I’m staying in the Red Lion Hanford House, with conference rooms named after geographic features of the sweeping Hanford Site.

A ceaseless wind is blowing when I arrive, piling the tumbleweeds up against the fence near the airport. One wonders where they’ve been … tumbleweeds hereabouts having occasional issues with radioactivity. Even now, even as Fleur works to keep them from growing in the contaminated zones, while they fight back by becoming resistant to even the most effective pesticides.

The wind moans through the roof of the hotel, and dust rises out on the farms and arid plateaus. The locals complain; it’s about time for the wind to stop, they say. Later in the week, it does. One of these years I’m going to remember about Richland and bring decongestants. No matter the time of year, there’s always something in the air. Tumbleweeds float down the Columbia River out in front of the hotel.

I am grateful for this job, genuinely enjoy the people I’m working with, the challenges they bring, and support the mission of this council. I have the luxury this year of focusing on this work, mainly, serving these people. So, welcome to Richland, my home away from home.

How you can both get what you want

Every now and then, I’m posting some thoughts from the field of mediation, partly because it’s what I do and partly because it’s so helpful in everyday life. I posted a blog a while back on how to say no positively, and it’s one of the most frequently googled posts I have. So for your consideration, a few thoughts on how to get through your next conflict, whether it be at work, at home, with a neighbor or a business.

First, some basic negotiation theory. Most people approach negotiations as if there’s a pie that needs to be split. If one person gets more, the other gets less. Dealing with money is a good example – if your department has only so much funding, what each person gets has to add up to that and no more. But even when dealing with money, there’s another way, and it’s called “interest-based” negotiation.

Here’s a story often used to illustrate it. Two sisters are arguing over some oranges. Each insists that she needs all of them for a breakfast they are making for Mother’s Day. The oranges come from Mom’s garden, but this is all there is.

If this were a standard negotiation, the mediator might ask each sister if there is any way they could do with less, and divide up what there is. Or maybe they could go the store and buy more, and each could have some of the ones from the garden and some store-bought ones. Neither sister goes away with what she wants, and chances are both are unhappy.

Now we go to interest-based negotiation. The mediator asks each sister WHY she wants the oranges. She might not see the point, but she’ll probably answer the question. The first says she wants the rind to bake a coffee cake. The second says she needs the fruit to make orange juice. The mediator splits the rind from the fruit, passes out the pieces, and everyone gets 100% of what she wants. The idea is to increase the size of the pie rather than splitting a smaller pie.

Now of course, it’s not always this easy. But a surprising amount of the time, people come into a dispute assuming that there’s only one way to get what they need. And if that way isn’t acceptable to the other person, an intractable problem arises.

Here’s a more typical problem. An employee has decided she needs a raise. Her boss doesn’t have any more money to give her a raise, so he says no. She continues to press the issue, saying that she must earn more money or take another job. Not wanting to lose her but not knowing where to get the money, the boss calls the company mediator.

The mediator starts by exploring both sides a little more, mainly by asking why – getting to the interests underneath the positions. Her position is that she needs more money, but the reason she needs more money is her interests – her daycare is charging more and gas prices have gone up. So you could summarize her interests as childcare and transportation costs.

Her boss has no additional money to give, but cares about his employee. His interests are keeping a good employee and her general well-being. He also cares about his budget and keeping his own job, but is willing to think about what else he could offer her. Previously, he did not know her interests. Now that he knows what they are, he can try to find another way to meet them.

Maybe he can offer her ways to offset her gas costs, like rideshare, free bus passes, flex-time, a shorter week, or telecommuting. Possibly some of these could also help with her child-care costs, by reducing the amount of time her child spends at the daycare. The ability to know her interests and offer her something else that meets them (especially if he can give her choices) demonstrates that he cares about her and may actually provide a better solution. Maybe she will find that she loves working at home or having an extra day off, more than she would have appreciated the extra money that would just go to rising costs anyway.

Now you don’t need a mediator to use these ideas in your own conflicts, as long as you keep some basic principles in mind.

1) Positions are just that – they always represent underlying interests that are usually much more important than the surface positions. Explore what’s underneath.

2) Find out what the other person’s interests are by asking questions. They will appreciate that you care why they hold the position they do and will usually want you to understand. Use active listening – a time set aside when you are just listening to them and not making your own points.

3) Make sure that you understand that your own positions are just that, and may not be the only good solution. Try to identify your own underlying interests and communicate those to the other person. It is just possible that they may be able to think of ways you haven’t thought of to meet them which would work out better for both of you.

4) Repeat the other person’s interest and state your own. Ask if you got their side of the issue right. Then ask for their help in coming up with a way you can both get what you need.

Try not to overwhelm the other person all at once. You may have thought this all out, but they may need time to reflect. Try to think of it as a conversation over time that may lead to a solution. Once you really understand where they’re coming from, you may also need time to figure out how to meet their needs – this is a two-way street, and it has to work for both people or the agreement won’t last.

Giving to your work

This has been the busiest summer of my working career (hence, the somewhat sporadic blogging – sorry about that!). I’ve given up much to it, in order to complete some very important projects and start a new business at the same time. A sailing vacation – lost to business travel. Time with friends and family spent working instead. My deck, hammock, and hot tub just calling out to be enjoyed, but empty – the weather hasn’t quite cooperated either, but still.

This last week took it to a new dimension. I had an opportunity to be involved in something I consider very important – be the facilitator for the start of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. As part of the Superfund cleanup, chemicals and nuclear wastes are being dealt with in such a way that they will reduce risks to human health and contain the wastes and chemicals that have been released. This process, in contrast, is intended to restore the natural environment and the natural resources that have been damaged at Hanford over the past 70 years.

In service to the river, the salmon, the groundwater for future generations, the sage-steppe habitat, the Indian nations that have used this area for thousands of years, eight agencies and tribes met together to take the first step down this path – hiring a contractor to look at the vast amounts of data that exist, figure out what more we need to know, and give us the first look at what natural resources have been damaged so we can set about restoring them. The US Dept. of Energy has the unenviable position of being at once the agency responsible for the legacy of contamination, cleaning it up, and restoring it.

So, over four days, and many days spent preparing for this workshop, we charted the future course. It was my pleasure (and hard work) to facilitate this event, which meant many hours before, during, and after the workshops each day to keep it running smoothly and efficiently, anticipate problems (we had some big ones, like lack of funding and decades of distrust), and try to think of ways to help others find their solutions.

As the week went on, I became more and more exhausted. I always found that I had the energy for the workshops, and just enough to do the prep work, but then I started sleeping for 10 hours a night and battling daily migraines. This has been a constant problem throughout my career, but at least that means I’m used to it and usually no-one can tell the difference – I’ve learned ways to cope and compensate.

Reflecting back on this event, we met all our goals and then some. I feel I did a good job, and everyone seems happy with the outcome. It was one of the longer, more difficult, and more meaningful events I have conducted in a very long time, just as I embark on a full-time career doing this kind of work.

It’s as if my physical struggles are my personal gift to the process. I know now I can do the work well. While sometimes I wonder how much better it would be if I had the energy and stamina of a “normal” person, I am who I am, and I will continue to give what I can. If it comes at the cost of a few headaches and lost days, so be it.

Every day is an adventure…

Notice I didn’t say what KIND of adventure :D Because every day is different – heck, every hour is different. Life right now is so full of ups and downs, set-backs and challenges, things to look forward to, things to worry about, romance, frustration, technical difficulties, and immense amounts of work and stress, that things never seem to be the same from moment to moment. One minute I am strong, productive and capable, an hour later I am down with a migraine worrying about how I will ever meet all my work responsibilities this summer. Two hours later I am up again, puttering around the house doing chores, which makes me feel better again – to have everything in order and be able to take care of these basic things. The next morning, I may feel better – or worse. Who knows? Sometimes it depends on the weather (literally).

The latest things are a really mixed bag. My eyes have started to see double on the freeway, which sent me to the optometrist (where I haven’t been for more than 10 years, having had perfect eyesight pretty much most of my life). Two small astigmatisms and minor nearsightedness later, she thinks that’s the cause – so I am waiting for driving glasses, and in the meantime not able to see properly – not fun when you’re working on data constantly. That plus migraines is creating a real struggle for getting all my work done.

On the plus side, I’m starting an exciting new business (see below) and all kinds of synchronicities are popping up to support it. I have been asked to moderate a panel of speakers at a public conference in September, where we can publicly launch our business among just about the perfect audience – oddly enough at the same conference I launched my last successful business at 9 years ago. I am getting into the thick of the Hanford natural resource trustee mediation that is coming up in August, and that should be a good challenge.

My love life is looking up – I finally get to have a real relationship instead of a long-distance one. I’m enjoying it so much – and yet the timing couldn’t be worse, since I am busier with work than I have been in 10 years. It’s hard to have a retired friend who wants to take you sailing when you have to stay home and work :( Still, I’m not complaining. And even this is an adventure – having both just come out of long marriages, we’re not ready to define the boundaries of our relationship. But we sure are enjoying it :) And with all the talking and thinking we’ve done about relationships over the last several years (much of which is recorded on these pages), we’re OK with keeping it fluid.

Back on the not-so-great side of the ledger, my elderly grandparents are having a really difficult time health-wise since their move into a retirement home. The place is really nice, we are all happy with it. But their health has really taken a turn for the worse and it’s not clear that they can keep living on the independent side. My mom has been over there every day trying to help with medication, finances, etc., but there may be only so much we can do before they get moved into assisted living, if they can’t take care of themselves on a daily basis. This would be a huge blow for them, but the current situation is hard on my mom, and what limited time I have I am doing my best to give her a break. The good part is they are much closer now so if we can ever get them settled in and healthy, we’ll all get to visit a lot more.

I’ve been upgrading my computer – hardware and software, 10 years of projects moved on to a new machine with a different operating system. The less said about that the better. Except that it cost me a lot of needed time, at a time when I didn’t have it to spare – yet it had to be done to do my current work. And the good side – I solved all the problems myself, even if it did take 5 days to get them all. From what I’ve been reading about Vista online – that’s not bad. And it’s the first time I’ve been able to undertake and complete a project like that without help.

Wow. Is that enough or what? This is all leading to developing some kind of philosophy of life. More on that in Part 2.

Creative conflict resolution


I’ve been pretty busy lately, and just wanted to write a little about what has taken up so much of my time and effort. I’m ready to launch a new business, Mediation Solutions. This business is all about preventing and resolving conflicts – in the workplace, in personal life, business, and the environment/public policy field. After nearly 20 years of working for the environment as a technical consultant, I have come to appreciate the critical importance of conflict as a barrier to getting anything done – in nearly all realms of life.

I’m very excited to have a partner join me in this effort – Stephanie Stirling, whom some of you may know. She is a person that I have grown to admire over the almost 15 years we have worked together – in various roles: as fellow regulators, client-consultant, workshop and training organizers… Like me, she has worked within her federal role as a facilitator-on-the-side of her normal biological/regulatory duties. This is a good fit for her at this time in her professional career, and it’s a neat feeling for me to have a partner for the first time.

The other very interesting thing we’re doing with this is, in addition to the traditional face-to-face approaches, getting set up for an increasing focus on online conflict resolution. Online conflict resolution fills many niches – it helps address international commerce and workplace issues, and provides software and techniques for working with people in widely varying geographic locations and timezones.

Aside from these more obvious uses, it turns out that it is helpful in a lot of practical ways also – participants do not need to be online at the same time, do not need to take time off work, travel anywhere, or arrange childcare. One can participate from anywhere – home, office, airport, wi-fi cafe, hotel room… It is useful in situations where emotions are so high that it is hard for participants to sit in the same room and communicate effectively. Translation issues can be dealt with. And lastly – younger generations are growing up doing everything online. They’re going to expect to be able to resolve their issues and conflicts there also.

So, we’re jumping into the bold new world of online conflict resolution. It may not generate much traffic at first, but I think it will be a fast-growing market someday. And then maybe Stephanie can relax in her new home on Whidbey Island and I can relax in my hacienda in Ecuador and we can tap away and resolve the world’s conflicts :) Oh… if only it were that easy!