Monday, May 31, 2010

Our underutilized third drive...

Doing the right thing simply for the sake of it reeks of simplistic idealism.  And it certainly will not get you ahead in the cashrenter-eat-cashrenter world of American crop farming, right?

So why does it persist?  I have known farmers  - too few, to be sure - who ignored the obvious commands of self-interest and social status to work for a goal that was, as far as my skeptical eye could discover, completely altruistic.

Maybe they aren't as loony as we think.
We have a biological drive. We eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, have sex to satisfy our carnal urges. We also have a second drive—we respond to rewards and punishments in our environment. But what we’ve forgotten—and what the science shows—is that we also have a third drive. We do things because they’re interesting, because they’re engaging, because they’re the right things to do, because they contribute to the world. The problem is that, especially in our organizations, we stop at that second drive. We think the only reason people do productive things is to snag a carrot or avoid a stick. But that’s just not true. Our third drive—our intrinsic motivation—can be even more powerful. [More of a very interesting interview]
I hesitate to use this blog as an example other than to suggest it satisfies that third drive for me - it feels like one right thing to do. Perversely, this satisfaction does not arise from being right in every instance (heh), but from making the effort to communicate and idea or opinion.

The Internet has allowed many of us to engage in this increasingly collaborative adventure, and as mentioned in the interview, much of the time has been taken from thoughtless TV viewing.  This is the miracle of the cognitive surplus.

Agriculture may be poised on the brink of a considerable cognitive surplus of our own.  We need to examine how we spend our time, and what we could be doing for ourselves and our profession.

More importantly, the insights Shirky shared above gives pause for those of us in the ag media.

I know I'm listening. And I think the decisions by viewers/readers will be self-evident sooner than we think.


Bob said...

I have been a trustee at an IL community college for 5 years, an elected and uncompensated position. I have met a number of other trustees from other colleges while participating in the state trustees association. Some of them are active or retired farmers; most have other backgrounds/occupations. Very few have any agenda other than doing their best to ensure that their colleges provide affordable educational opportunities to as many people as possible. Support from my family and employees has enabled me spend the necessary time, along with 7 other trustees, to provide guidance and oversight to our college. My father was one of the original trustees and set an example for me and others to emulate. The business and organizational skills acquired over 45 years of farming seem to apply very well to fulfilling the role of a trustee. My fellow trustees are not farmers, but our backgrounds and skills complement each other well.

All the technology that allows us to manage our farms more productively has, as you suggested, allowed many of us to put our "cognitive surplus" to good effect.

an aside: I have observed over the years that former FFA and 4-H members have a much better grasp of parliamentary procedure and how to function in a meeting than those without that experience.

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