The Vast and Endless Sea


Nobody actually wants to do all work completely for free. You would starve. The point is that people will do some work for free. They call them hobbies. :slight_smile:

All of this has very little to do with economics. Except that like other hobbies (sports, chess, etc) if you position yourself well you can profit off of the fact that other people have this programming hobby.


@casual_juergen: No need to apologise! You didn’t come across negatively at all. You just had a different take than I did. I’m not yet so bitter and twisted that I become offended when someone looks at the world in a more positive way than I do! :slight_smile:


Great video and animation!

Creativity and Aptitude are two very unique ideas, and while money couldn’t make you any more or less creative, it can certainly tempt you to work harder or faster on your aptitude.

If you observe the Q&A on StackOverflow, most answers require extensive knowledge or aptitude and very few require a “creative” solution. Do software developers really need to be creative? Unless you are an entrepreneur or a startup, I really fail to see the creative angle. Or maybe my idea of creativity is very limited!

@Leszek Tarkowski, I really like that para on Nietzsche. Human psychology hasn’t changed, and probably never will :slight_smile:


@Christophe Devriese

The reason why there are better IDEs on Windows than Linux is more of a cultural thing. On Linux, it’s completely normal to use a text editor (Emacs > Vim :wink: ) and compile by command line. If you walk up to most Linux programmers and ask them what IDE they use, they’ll start laughing.

On Windows, it’s incredibly difficult to use the Terminal and the system isn’t designed for developing software without an IDE. IDE’s are a completely Windows culture thing. And the only passable IDE that I really know of is Visual Studio, which has a very large software development team working 8 hours a day for years to develop and maintain. Very few free software projects can dedicate that much time for a tool with little demand.

So the reason why there aren’t any good IDEs on Linux is because there’s a very small demand for them. Ask a hardcore Vim user about IDE’s for Linux and they’ll point you to Emacs.

And many developers spend 8 hours of their day working for their company. That leaves very little time for developing applications in their free time, especially if they have a family.

While working 8 hours during the day is tiring, that still doesn’t stop me from wanting to reach farther in my free time to develop the software I want, using the tools that I love to use.

Great post, I’m going to show the video to my friends. This is really what has kept me going with the projects I’m working on.


A comment on incentivation vs accomplishment of cognitive tasks. A significant thing that the studies don’t measure, given what I’ve read on this blog about the studies, is whether the “subject” wants to play at all. If you’re creatively talented you may well choose to take a job at a company that incentives creative solutions. You know that you’ve got a good chance at a bonus or some other variable form of compensation. Less talented people might not be so interested in a company that orients their compensation policy in such a manner. I don’t know how you’d study this, especially given that in real life we’re talking about your income, not a relatively minor, non life changing reward.

The videos do realize this when they say that a key to this entire thesis is that the “job” is already incentived in such a way as to take money off the table.

With regard to comparing Wikipedia to Encarta, Apache to IIS, Linux to Windows, this is somewhat misleading and is also reminscent of the lists of check boxes that you see in advertisements for software products or cars or other products. A specially designed list is presented that doesn’t cover all of the aspects of the product, nor does is deal with huge overlap between items nor does it adequately describe the importance or meaning of the checkbox items.

I know we could get into a useless argument about free vs. commerical, not free. But consider a few counter examples. MS Office is considered superior to Open Office by many serious people. Linux is used in many servers typically for very well defined purposes. Windows is used in typical corporate servers for general business purposes where Linux would probably not work (I really don’t know enough to make this assertion, but perhaps someone else does). Desktops are dominated by Windows and Mac OS. That’s both at home and at work. Could be a conspiracy, could be that it’s generally packaged with the hardware. But, people could change to Linux, for almost free, but most don’t.

I listen to quite a few podcasts during my hour long commute. Most have adverstising. Blogs with helpful technical information are often (but not always) supported by advertising.

There will always be people who will want to do creative tasks, and will do them exceptionally well, even if they have to risk their lives in order to have the freedom to pursue those interests. Authors, of course, are a good example. This doesn’t tell me that we ought to threaten peoples lives or freedom in order to get the best results.

I found the 2 videos interesting, and useful when taken in the context of the real world. They certainly present important information with regard to inovative ways of motivating creative people, ONCE YOU HAVE THEM ON STAFF.

Anyway, my initial thoughts.


It’s not communist hippy bullcrap. Mr. Pink clearly states that before this works you have to take money out of the equation, which means paying people enough that money isn’t a concern.

As much as I enjoy this topic, it’s really just an extension of Maslow, it is difficult to be motivated by mastery, purpose, etc unless your lower needs are met. :slight_smile:


The ‘cartoon video’ wants to think it has taken money completely out of the equation.


Or, quux, you could post an ad like this:

One time in a forum, there was a confused op. I gave him a link and some suggestions on how to solve his problem. He thanked me as soon as possible, and it was great. But there was more. A few days or a few weeks later, he gave something back to the community. Well, at least I’d like to think he was the one who did that. Not only did I get direct recognition from him, but now there was this indirect recognition (recognition * ?). It was great… No, it is great, and unlike promises of high wages, he gave me something that no one can take away.

I don’t know where that op is now. I’m not sure if he even came back to read the forums. But I’d like to think he’s on his adventure, trying to get better, and when he comes back, maybe he’ll have some interesting things to share. Does that make sense to people? You have to nod, otherwise I can’t tell. :slight_smile:


Of course if you take money out of the equation, then how exactly are you incentivising people by offering them money?

I think that this is an interesting problem, but perhaps difficult to statistically measure. I think in general, probably for readers of this blog, that the satisfaction and esthetic of creation, the freedom to pursue things of interest and the knowledge that we’re contributing is a very strong incentive. We probably don’t need a statistical study to persuade of this. In addition, this is probably true of most people. However most of us are fortunate in that what we enjoy is also a profitable enterprise as far as supplying our Maslow needs. Unfortunatley this is not true in general.


I am really impressed the way you touch the ‘human’ aspect of this great combination of intellect and machines on the www thing.
Further the way you present you blog is so refreshing and cool. Makes me a fan of yours :slight_smile:


Francis, thanks for your reply. Indeed many of us love an adventure. Many of us like paying back (or paying forward) the help and inspiration we have received. Of course many of us love getting some form of recognition for the hard things we have accomplished. And finally, many of us just personally love the feeling of accomplishment gotten from accomplishing hard things - whether anyone else knows and recognizes the accomplishment or not.

My response was in no way blind to any of these motives/incentives, so yes, I am nodding! But I can’t help but think you glossed over the real question I asked.

Gaining the skills to be a good coder, rocket scientist, doctor or whatever, is no easy task. One starts on that path with only an inkling of the work that will be involved, and only a guess as to whether he will have any affinity for, or talent with, the skills he’ll have to learn. And whether formal or informal, the course of study and practice will be long and difficult.

So the question remains: what motivates a person to begin on a years-long program of study and practice? Having started on it, what motivates this person to stick to that long slog through the study and practice needed to achieve mastery? Imagine your Shackleton ad had “FOUR YEARS OF SCHOOLING AT YOUR OWN COST REQUIRED BEFORE ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY BEGINS” as its final sentence.

Years of potentially expensive study and practice are an investment one makes, usually with some calculation as to how long the repayment will take. Dan Pink’s entire scenario seems to take place within a group of people who have already made that investment and paid it off.

So, again I ask, what will motivate people to make the initial and hefty investment in study & skill building requisite to becoming one of those “highly skilled” people on whom Dan Pink’s talk is centered?


Great post, top 10 all time I think.


See also the book “Punished by Rewards” (


I apologize, quux. This form of communication is not easy for me.

Motivating others

There are many ways to motivate people other than money. Emotion is the key. In fact, people for a long time have come up with lists trying to identify the most basic motivators.

Here’s one list:
Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence, Faith, Hope, Charity

Here’s another:
Pride, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Sloth

Money is such a great motivator because it is associated with many things in those lists. However, if you can associate things in those lists with something else, then you can use that as a motivator. Of course, you have to make sure that the things you choose are valued by the person you want to motivate.

Who’s doing the motivating?

Good people, bad people, and everyone in between have used the method I’ve just described to motivate others. For me, the important thing is not taking money out of the equation or intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, but it’s the relationship between the people involved. For example, let’s say someone is trying to get money from you by appealing to your sense of charity. If it comes from a cult leader, it’s creepy. But if it comes from a five year old chasing after an ice cream truck, then it’s nice.

I don’t know who you’re trying to motivate, why, or what you want him or her to do, but I think it’s more important to consider the relationships between people rather than the actual motivator itself. Does that person look at you as a hero, leader, parental figure, friend…? Or does that person look at you as a thief, cult leader, or worse, adverti…? Just kidding. :slight_smile: Once you understand the relationships between the people involved, their values and the perceived risks, you’ll have a better chance of choosing the right motivator.

I’m sure there are a bunch of other factors that must be considered in order to successfully motivate others, but for now, this is my limited understanding of the topic.


Thanks a lot for the post. Especially the embedded video. I really love live drawing animations that are geared to prove a point (and the content in the video is definitely something I’m interested in).

Here’s a pretty good one about talent/luck,

Also, if you haven’t heard of it yet, I highly suggest you read “The Parable of the Monkeys” found here,


I mentally flagged this video as genius the moment he said “you need to pay them enough to not worry about money”. Having bounced between high and low income situations over the years, money does not dominate my life any more than a bowel movement. Bills get paid, I can enjoy just about anything in moderation, and I rarely feel like I’m broke or underpaid. Surprising since I was making about $35k a year, yet I could afford all my tech toys and still go out for burgers and pints at least once a week. I used to make three times as much, but I never saved a penny, I just found more things to spend it on (like blow :P)

If I had an extra $5000 it would all go to restaurants and booze. An extra $10000 might add a car, maybe a larger apartment. Beyond that I can’t see how money could improve my life any further. I don’t crave fictional numbers in a bank account, I crave happiness. Instead of more money, I’d rather have more time. Take a $60k job, scale it down to 3 days a week for $36k and I’m there.

For myself, as a coder, it’s all about riding those waves of intellectual fluidity. If I’m stuck in a rut, the best cure is to get out of the office and go have a beer (just one - ok maybe two). Better yet: take the rest of the day off and go for a bike ride or a swim, or maybe scurry home and play Call of Duty until my eyes glaze over… Pushing my brain harder only leaves me mentally exhausted and depressed, which only serves to hurt my work output in both quality and quantity. If some client is shitting bricks and I have to pull an all-nighter, I’ll do it, but you can write me off for the next day or two because I’ll be a zombie. I’d rather be a kickass programmer for 10 hours than a shitty one for 40 hours, and if Joel Spolsky’s theory about kickass programmers holds any truth, I’ll get more done in those 10 hours than the next guy in his entire week. That’s something you can bank on.


They came to the right conclusion for the wrong reason. Compensation for performance works when there is a strong correlation between performance and compensation.

The reason it does NOT work is because IT/high Paid professions have work who’s performance can not adequately be measured OR the parties who hand out the rewards are blatently compensating failures.


Hi Jeff

Let me start out by saying I really do enjoy reading codinghorror, and I have been a keen follower for a while.

This particular entry is very interesting, but if you look at the holistic nature of human beings and the environments in which they exist, various factors go into motivating individuals.
If an individual has grown up in an economically unstable background, finds a job that helps them just break even every month, that individual would be more motivated by income, i.e. the more they earn the more motivated they would be.
But this is transient because as that individual is able to bed down various materialistic needs, he/she will be looking to fore fill other needs.

Please have a look at “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”,, look at the diagram critically; the aspect of motivation your blog refers to is the upper most section
“Self-actualization” and once an individual is at this level, he/she will only then “….yearn for the vast and endless sea, just like we do.”

Would interesting to know your opinions on this.


Splunk gave us a presentation to some interested groups here at Lawrence Berkeley Lab a few weeks ago, and I noticed that is a SE hosted site, which is a great choice for them. The cost is nothing for them, and I wouldn’t mind if the creators of Stack Exchange made a living from their product-- that’s my dream (Although I’m not sure if it would be good in real life).


I’m thinking there’s a bit of truth in this theory. Especially the idea that autonomy is a motivator. But it’s a motivator within a wider context. It’s like a little ball inside a big ball. You can rattle a round a bit, but that big ball delimits your ultimate autonomy.

It also make sense that paint-by-numbers jobs requiring robotic behavior are most fertile for monetary incentives. After all, if it’s not money, then what’s your incentive? To be more like a robot? To be less autonomous? It’s severely goal directed and the goal is money. The mortgage has to be paid.

That raises an interesting point: how many times have you heard people say about their dead-end job that it’s what they do so they can earn money to do the things they love? They see it as a price to pay for something better, not that better thing itself.

Further, despite looking like an argument for socialist dogma, this is a strong explanation for the efficacy of the free-market system. The ivory tower Marxists who frown and wonder why their glorious theories always bear poisonous fruit, should take note and realise what non-Marxists have always understood: it’s not so much freedom to make money that creates efficacy, but the freedom to direct one’s own life that promotes human happiness and productive abundance.

It also explains why production, not consumption, is the prime mover. And why government “stimulation” of the economy creates perverse short-term incentives and long-term problems. Treating the populace–especially entrepreneurs–like hamsters on a wheel instead of individuals who have a desire to improve their own lives through self-motivated, self-directed, productive action is not only in-efficacious but morally bankrupt.