How To Accomplish (Almost) Anything with Strong Incentives
Inertia is the enemy, and the solution is to design incentives that make the status quo uncomfortable
One morning, in May of 2005, I realized I had been living a lie. For nearly two years, I had been building a business, but finally came to accept it was all a lie. In hindsight, the signs were obvious. During my 18 months in business, I had only closed one deal.
Reality somehow had eluded me, and it wasn't until my bank balance dwindled to one month of living expenses that I finally gave up my delusional fantasy.
Recognition of my impending financial doom didn't solve my problem; it exposed a deeper one.
I needed a job, but my skills were stale, and my dated résumé too embarrassing to blast out. Still, I was desperate, and that motivated me.
The next day, I picked up the telephone and called every one of my contacts for a lead on a possible job. If they had none, I asked for the names of peers who might know something. I'm not the kind of person who likes to ask for help. And since then, I don't think I've ever asked anyone to go out of their way to help me. I'm usually the guy who says, "If it's not too much trouble, would you… But please don’t feel obligated." Even then, my situation needs to reach a point of desperation before I go that far.
But on that day, despair and fear prompted me to say, "I need some help. If you can't point me to a job lead, then introduce me to someone who might."
Not everyone did, but enough people went out of their way, and things worked out. A few days later, I scored an interview for a role as a Project Manager. I took a crash course in it, leveraged my experience as a software developer and a mortgage broker, and became a Project Manager for a mortgage-backed security software product. It paid $105K per year, the most I'd ever made at that point.
We can accomplish almost anything with the right incentives, even feats we think well beyond our abilities. It seems simple enough, but there's a difference between weak incentives and strong ones.
When they're weak, they don't move us to take action because we're too comfortable…