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Behaviorism doesn't work? Humanism is overrated? So say the authors of this oft-read article

Posted Feb 26 2012 12:00am

Carrots__6_ The classic article " Neuroscience of Leadership " ( strategy+business ) is several years old now, but it's still worth reading. Or rereading if you haven't done so recently. I thought of the article last week when I saw someone recommending a management approach based on behaviorism. Specifically, I thought of these words by the article's authors David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz :

Many existing models for changing people’s behavior are drawn from a field called behaviorism. The field emerged in the 1930s and was led by psychologist B.F. Skinner and advertising executive John B. Watson, building on Ivan Pavlov’s famous concept of the condi- tioned response: Associate the ringing of a bell with food, and a dog can be made to salivate at the sound. The behaviorists generalized this observation to people, and established an approach to change that has some- times been caricatured as: “Lay out the M&Ms.” For each person, there is one set of incentives — one combination of candy colors — that makes the best motivator. Present the right incentives, and the desired change will naturally occur. If change doesn’t occur, then the mix of M&M colors must be adjusted.

Yet there is plenty of evidence from both clinical research and workplace observation that change efforts based on typical incentives and threats (the carrot and the stick) rarely succeed in the long run. For example, when people routinely come late to meetings, a manager may reprimand them. This may

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