One of the issues or questions in the news today concerns raising the minimum wage. There are reasonable arguments on each side of the question, but most of the public discussion as reported in the media is political. It’s been suggested that the Republicans could gain votes by championing an increase greater than that proposed by the administration. That may be, but I’m not a politician and would prefer to look the issue in terms of how it may help or hurt segments of the population and the country as a whole.
My starting assumption is that everyone would prefer for all individuals, and the country as a whole, to be successful. A few days ago we got to attend a reunion dinner for the University of Tulsa’s 2003 Humanitarian Bowl football team. It was an interesting and emotional experience. In the two years prior to Steve Kragthorpe becoming the new head coach in 2003, the team record had been 1-10 and 1-11. In 2003 the team was 8-4 and was not only the first bowl team, but also the first team with a winning record in 12 years. After dinner at the reunion, a number of players spoke of that season and about the turn around from the prior years. These were extemporaneous, emotionally charged comments. All mentioned Steve Kragthorpe and his philosophy as being the catalyst for the turn around. It seems the main thing he asked of them was “attitude and effort”. One guy said that the importance of attitude and effort was the most important lesson he had learned for his life and work after college. This reunion had a higher turnout than other team’s reunions. The players said it was probably because they all had good jobs and cared about each other.
“Attitude and effort.” I could identify with that. A few years ago, one of the middle-management people in my organization came up with a full-page cartoon that suggested that “attitude can determine your altitude”. At the time that was a new idea for me. But my experience since then has seemed to confirm the importance of attitude. And I always thought effort was important. So attitude and effort seemed a nice way to summarize the important things to remember for success. Since then I have given some more thought to what influences these two things. The most important I have decided is getting the attitude right since it is a major driver of the effort. And what I have come up with are these 5 things that I believe influence our attitude which will then drive the effort.
- Motivation: When I left my regular full-time job a few years ago I wanted to try some things on my own and this seemed like a good time. As I explained to my lawyer friend who was helping me form my company, “If this doesn’t work out, we will still have food and shelter because I have enough money saved and invested to cover our basic needs”. “That’s not necessarily good”, he said, “because to be successful at what you are setting out to do, there will be things that you will need to do that won’t be fun. Fear is a good motivator, so if you’re not a little afraid you may not do those things the way you will need to.” I knew he was right, fear of failure is one of the most effective motivators – for either a company or an individual. If your basic needs are not covered and secure, survival instincts will provide the motivation to make the effort.
- Ambition: Abraham Maslow came up with a hierarchy of needs that we humans have. He said the basic survival needs come first, but as a need is filled then it is no longer a motivator. So after our basic needs are covered, ambition is what motivates us to additional effort. In this context, ambition is related to what many of us were lucky enough to be asked when we were children, “What do you want to be when you grow up.” Once the basic needs are satisfied, it’s important for us to have something to do that we enjoy and have a passion for. Ambition frequently carries negative connotations, but it’s what keeps us doing things that will give us love, respect and self-fulfillment.
- Education & knowledge: There are two pieces to this: 1) having the basic life skills needed to manage our personal affairs (e.g. how to manage a bank account, do and track a household budget, etc.) and 2) What we need to do to be successful at whatever we are going to do or be. What things should we put our effort on? Our football team had a coach who told them what they needed to work on to become good players. They also got some help on how to manage their studies and personal time. Many of us don’t have that. Lack of knowledge of these things hurts our chances of success (even when we are putting forth an effort) and the resulting lack of confidence hurts our attitude.
- Personal Responsibility: Our coach told our football team players that they needed to take personal responsibility for their activity on and off the field. On the field, the effort to improve their personal performance was important, but also they had a responsibility to their teammates to do the things that would help the team. The team will rise or fall together, so we need to take personal responsibility to helpful to our teammates and neighbors as well as ourselves.
- Hope: There was a documentary film made a few years ago about a high school football team in North Memphis, Tennessee in a poor part of town. The school hadn’t had a winning team in many years, and less than 20 players when a local businessman decided to volunteer personal time to coach them. Within a couple of years, the number of players went up substantially and the team made the state playoffs for the first time. Some of the players were good enough to get college scholarships, but there was one from a broken home who seemed to have the ability to do college work but was not good enough to get a football scholarship. However, a local businessman was impressed with him and offered to pay for his 4 years at college. The coach told him about the offer and said, “See, when you do the right things. good things can happen.” There are no guarantees, but if we are going to put forth the effort and “do the right things”, we need to believe that good things can happen. We need to have hope.
All the above things probably effect our attitude and our willingness to put forth the effort necessary to be successful. Not everything is fun – including all of football practices. In more than 40 years of working, I’ve never had a job which didn’t have some parts that weren’t fun for me. But making the effort is critical, and our willingness to do that is highly dependent on having the right attitude.
In a previous blog I mentioned that Adam Smith pointed out many years ago that intentions are not results. Most of us have heard the old saw that, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. I believe that the folks who support the increase in the minimum wage and government welfare programs are well-intentioned, but what we actually do should be the result of an objective assessment of the likely consequences. The assessment should include both an analysis of the economic consequences as well as the behavioral consequences, keeping in mind that there is usually more than one way to accomplish a desired result. We’ll try to look at some specifics in the next post.