Rewarding Work - Scott Adams' Blog

Rewarding Work

[Updated with link to the graph I referenced. Thanks to the folks who found it.]

The other day I saw a very cool graph that showed which vitamins and supplements have good science behind them and which ones don’t. The graphic was interesting on several levels. The first thing I noticed was how cleverly constructed it was. I could see at a glance which vitamins and supplements are supported by science. The graph was interesting enough to keep me staring at it, following its little lines and connections as if searching for Waldo. That level of engagement probably helped me retain more information than if I had skimmed it.

The next thing I realized is what a good public service this graph was. Millions of people would see it and come away with knowledge that directly applies to their own health. Some people might start taking useful supplements and vitamins and others might discontinue the ones that science doesn’t support. There’s a good chance that the creator of the clever graphic saved some lives. How many of you have a job that rewarding?

I was wondering about the artist who made the graph. Did he or she get this assignment and think I can save some lives? Or was it just another assignment and just another paycheck? People who are primarily working for money can do good work, but the cleverness of this particular graph suggests there was a stronger motivation behind it. I think the creator was aware of the stakes and elevated his or her game through intrinsic motivation.

Whenever you see the x-factor in someone’s output – that little extra something that turns the good into the awesome – it’s a marker for intrinsic motivation. Monetary motivation plateaus at the point you think your work equals your pay. For most people, that happens when the product is good but not awesome. To get to awesome you need to think you might be changing the world, saving lives, redeeming your reputation, attracting the mate of your dreams, or something else that is emotionally large.

One of my techniques for staying motivated is that I put everything I do in the context of how it might improve the entire world, or at least some subset of it. With Dilbert I imagine that at least some of my output makes people laugh, or smirk, or feel less alone in their misery. Laughter decreases stress, which improves health and increases both productivity and creativity. In a very small way I’m nudging the world in a positive direction. That thought helps me dig deeper to find the x-factor for tomorrow’s comic.

Then there’s this blog. I don’t expect anything I write here to directly influence world events or to change anyone’s mind about anything. But what I know from my work as a creator of content is that all creativity comes from putting existing ideas into a mixing bowl then swirling the whole mess around to see what happens. The more ideas you are exposed to, the more likely one of your mixtures will produce something great. If you read any idea in this blog that you wouldn’t have thought on your own, your creative potential is increased. That’s a big deal because nothing of importance has ever been done without creativity. I’m motivated by the thought that I’m contributing to civilization’s creative pool.

This brings me to your job, whatever that might be. Is there any opportunity – no matter how small – for you to change the world through your work?

Leave me a comment and tell me what you’re doing that could change the world, no matter now slightly, in a positive direction.