Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Job Security as Motivation

"Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired." - Peter Gibbons, Office Space

So much of the behavior of people in various professions makes more sense once you assume that their goal is not to do succeed, but simply to keep their job. For example,
  • Football coaches don't want to win games, they just want to keep their jobs. So, they don't take as many risks (i.e., going for it on fourth down) as they should. Rationally, they are afraid of the kind of backlash that Belicheck is getting right now for his correct decision to go for it.
  • Referees don't care about actually being unbiased, they just want to appear unbiased, so that they can keep their jobs. This explains some of their odd behaviors.
  • Politicians pander to the desires of the median voter not because they want to represent the people's best interests because they want to get re-elected, gain more power, and keep their jobs.
  • Professors, especially untenured ones, don't really care if their students learn much, they just want to get good student ratings at the end of the semester. This way they will do better when it comes to evaluation time, which lowers the probability that they will lose their job.
People who work for themselves shouldn't have this problem, but most do because they will have to pitch their products to consumers who will often judge them on how conventional they are. Perhaps the only ones in society that we can trust to actually say what they think are old people.

Can you think of any other examples?