I’ve heard numerous folks in development roles express discomfort and concern with the idea that discipline has a positive role to play in development work. Similarly, I have heard numerous managers express frustration and concern that their development teams “lack discipline”.
Learning the value of discipline is the key thing that – to some extent at least – justifies the time, effort and relatively limited effectiveness that organisations spend in the Analytic mindset. In a nutshell, Ad-hoc minded organisations see little or no value in discipline; Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic-minded organisations take discipline as a given.
The Term “Discipline” Can Confuse
Just in case you’re wondering what I mean by “discipline”, I wrote last year a post explaining the term. In that post I contrasted the two different types of discipline (extrinsic vs intrinsic). I suspect that the concern – and polar opposite attitudes – folks have towards “discipline” – stems from a confusion between these two types of discipline.
“Confusing extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is bad enough, but the fatal mistake is using extrinsic motivation (disciplining, using punishment-and-reward) and expecting it to foster intrinsic motivation or self-discipline. Unfortunately, that’s exactly backwards: extrinsic motivation corrodes intrinsic motivation.”
~ Gordon Shipley
I’m not going to rehash my aforementioned post here. Rather, I’d like to explore a question I’m often asked: “can organisations skip the Analytic mindset?” After all, save its role in illustrating the value of discipline (mostly extrinsic, in the case of the Analytic mindset), there seems little attraction in spending any time at all in the Analytic mindset, let alone the years or decades that some organisations languish therein.
So, I’m wondering if there’s a way in which organisations can progress to the Synergistic mindset, with a viable appreciation of the value of discipline, yet not learn that lesson through building a regime of extrinsic discipline and all the police-state paraphernalia that goes with that?
Would it be feasible to learn the value of discipline, from the get-go, through a focus on intrinsic discipline, and evolve from that position instead? In that way, could we avoid the cost and effort of setting up elaborate frameworks of coercion, with rafts of policies, procedures, contracts, standards, reporting hierarchies, and so on? Could we avoid the unpleasantnesses of coercion (aka violence)? And might we be able to avoid the costs and distress of eventually tearing down those same frameworks later, i.e. with the uptake of Synergistic thinking?
The challenge, as I see it, is to not get ahead of ourselves and attempt to put into place the whole Synergistic memeplex, as we work on fostering intrinsic discipline.
Is it possible to foster intrinsic discipline in place of extrinsic discipline – whilst still in a command-and-control, hierarchical management, siloed organisation?
Personally, I believe the answer is a cautious “yes”.
The Foundations of Intrinsic Discipline
First, a plea for balance:
“What does it say about our society that ‘the idea of self-control is generally praised’ even though it may sometimes be maladaptive and spoil the experience and savorings of life’?”
~ Alfie Kohn
Here’s some things I might do to foster intrinsic discipline:
- Start a dialogue across the organisation about the value – and risks – of discipline and the distinctions between the two types of discipline.
- Explore the purpose of the organisation, from the stakeholders’ perspectives, and the role of discipline in meeting that purpose.
- Invite folks to consider the connections between intrinsic discipline and intrinsic motivation.
- Question the nature and understanding of “intrinsic discipline” – it is like having an internal policeman, or more like something that helps everyone to explore and fulfil their own personal values, and needs?
As I’ve been writing this post, it’s been dawning on me that perhaps the idea of transitioning from extrinsic discipline to intrinsic discipline – as part of the wider Analytic-Synergistic transition – is somewhat misleading. Perhaps the transition is more about a change from joylessness to joyfulness (by degrees). We might also see this as a change from a focus on discipline (of either kind) to a focus on (intrinsic) motivation.
“In fact, though, there are different types of motivation, and the type matters more than the amount. Intrinsic motivation consists of wanting to do something for its own sake – to read, for example, just because it’s exciting to lose oneself in a story. Extrinsic motivation exists when the task isn’t really the point; one might read in order to get a prize or someone’s approval. Not only are these two kinds of motivation different — they tend to be inversely related. Scores of studies have shown that the more you reward people for doing something, the more they’re apt to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Researchers keep finding that offering children “positive reinforcement” for being helpful and generous ends up undermining those very qualities, and encouraging students to improve their grades results in their becoming less interested in learning.”
~ Alfie Kohn
I’d love to hear how you feel about all this.
Why Self-discipline is Overrated ~ Alfie Kohn
Discipline Defined: Understanding Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation ~ Gordon Shipley
Balancing Agility and Discipline ~ Barry Boehm, Richard Turner