Motivation by Subhadra Jayaraman

Image courtesy :

Up in heaven the three wizards assembled. They sat in a small circle, their glistening robes billowing in the icy winds above the clouds. Their beards swayed about merrily. They were brimming with thoughts and ideas, ever enthusiastic to inform each other of their epiphanies and insights, their issues and solutions. Wizard Bluebeard had a long wavy beard the color of the deep sea. Wizard Redbeard glowed like the setting sun, his scarlet beard fluttering like a flag. Wizard Blackbeard had a goatee as dark as a raven’s back and beetle-like eyes to match it. Today they gathered to talk about a concern that was keeping them awake at night. What motivates humans on Earth to do their duty?

Wizard Bluebeard believed it was kindness and encouragement.
Wizard Redbeard thought it was fear and hunger.
Wizard Blackbeard felt it was wealth and affluence.

This disagreement had their beards up in a knot and they had been planning an experiment to test their theories out methodically. They selected an average human being on Earth – a government employee who was a clerk in the education department. His job was to file documents, arrange meetings and conferences for his superiors, order office essentials, and record the various occurrences weekly. He worked at a small desk in a crowded room, surrounded by other colleagues, a printer humming constantly, a ceiling fan slapping the thick air, a coffee machine hissing occasionally, computer mouse and keyboards clack-clacking constantly, the double doors to the department opening and closing intermittently. He came in at 9:00 AM every morning and left exactly at 5:00 PM every evening. He did not come to work on the weekends. He ate sandwiches from his lunch box every day at 12:00 noon. Had two cups of coffee – one at 10:30 AM, and another at 3:30 PM. Sometimes he ate biscuits with it. Occasionally, when it was a colleague’s birthday or retirement gathering, or another special occasion, he would eat a slice of cake with his afternoon coffee. He did not work more; he did not work less. He didn’t smile too much; he wasn’t grumpy for too long. He was neither handsome nor ugly, neither short nor tall, neither fat nor thin. He was the average man. His name was Bill.

For their experiment, the wise trio decided they would each manipulate Bill’s environment for a day, motivate him with their respective elements, and calculate his productivity at the end of each day. The task Bill would be given was fairly simple but time consuming and mind numbingly boring – photocopy the applications of all the students enrolled in summer school from 12 districts and file them in alphabetical order. Whichever day Bill filed the most applications, that day’s motivation strategy would be the winner. Bill’s memory would be wiped after each day, so that his past memories don’t taint his present performance. After three days, Bill would merely be mildly bewildered since all of this would appear to have happened in a dream, shake it off and go back to his mediocre life.

Wizard Bluebeard appeared on Earth on day one as Bill’s boss. He went to Bill at 9:00 AM and handed him a large box filled with blue folders. He said, “Bill, I would like you to copy and file these applications at once – please put all your other appointments for today on hold.” Bill looked up to complain, but Wizard Bluebeard went on kindly, “I came to you for this task, because I believe you are the only one who is adept enough in this entire organization, and only you can be trusted with a task as enormous and important as this. You are an exceptional clerk and are doing remarkably well. I don’t know what this office would do without you!” Bill beamed at him and got to work in an instant.

Wizard Redbeard appeared on Earth on day two as Bill’s boss. He went to Bill at 9:00 AM and handed him a large box filled with red folders. He said, “Bill, I would like you to copy and file these applications at once – please put all your other appointments for today on hold.” Bill looked up to complain, but Wizard Redbeard went on sternly, “You will not protest a direct order from your superior! The importance of this task is beyond your meager understanding. If not done within today, you will be fired, mark my words! You will be allowed no lunch or coffee breaks today until you finish the task, and mind you, I am watching!” Bill stumbled up to his feet in fear and got to work in an instant.

Wizard Blackbeard appeared on Earth on day three as Bill’s boss. He went to Bill at 9:00 AM and handed him a large box filled with black folders. He said, “Bill, I would like you to copy and file these applications at once – please put all your other appointments for today on hold.” Bill looked up to complain, but Wizard Blackbeard went on grimly, “Bill, before you utter another word, this is a direct order from the Secretary of Education. Additionally, you will be awarded a generous bonus in your next paycheck for getting this done – but only if the job is done. If not, you set a bad precedent for our department as a whole, and I may be forced to reduce your salary. Please bear this in mind.” Bill sighed heavily and got to work in an instant.

After their experiment, the trio gathered at their round table again to compare their results. Wizard Greybeard joined them today to read out their results and be an egalitarian referee for their issue. Wizard Greybeard opened a folded parchment and read, “After Bluebeard’s order, Bill filed 835 applications.” Bluebeard beamed. Greybeard continued, “After Redbeard’s order, Bill filed 986 applications”. Bluebeard’s face fell as Redbeard’s eyes sparkled. Greybeard said, “Finally, after Blackbeard’s order, Bill filed 1078 applications”. Blackbeard whooped as the other two scowled. All three of them started talking at the same time.

“Not so fast!” thundered Greybeard, and all of them fell silent. “Although he filed more black and red folders, he filed almost all of them wrong or with incomplete documents. After Redbeard’s tirade, he was too terrified, and the lack of food made him angsty. After Blackbeard’s monetary promise, he spent an extra 20 minutes at his lunch, mostly daydreaming about what he would do with the bonus. And although he filed the least blue folders, he did them all perfectly, although he spent quite a long time on the phone telling his wife proudly that Bluebeard praised him and thought highly of him.”

The three Wizards looked at each other in poignant silence. Their readout for measuring motivation was flawed. Humans were more complicated that any of them had thought.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Bill sat at the breakfast table chatting with his wife. “I had the strangest dream last night! My boss was trying to make me work hard at something, and he kept changing color for some reason. He was blue, and then turned red, and then went black! He kept saying, no food, no paycheck. But I think he once patted my back and said I was awesome! It’s all a blur now, but quite strange!” Bill guffawed. His wife smiled, “Well, if your boss was any good, he would have known that if there was one way to get you to work hard, it would be to threaten you that you would otherwise have to stay in the office after 5:00 PM!” They both laughed at this as they ate their toast and eggs.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s