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Selfish, Scared and Stupid: Stop Fighting Human Nature And Increase Your Performance, Engagement And Influence by Kieran Flanagan, Dan Gregory

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CHAPTER 5 Offer a reward

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed,will set off a revolution.

Paul Cezanne

The eternal analogy used to describe the science of human engagement and motivation is known simply as ‘the carrot and stick approach’. This, however, is underpinned by the somewhat more sophisticated principle of pleasure and pain, which are the twin forces that drive us through a combination of push and pull or, put more coarsely, through coercion and enticement.

On carrots and sticks

Certainly, this is a principle we come to understand very early in life. In an effort to control children’s behaviour — or at least to minimise our embarrassment in front of those witnessing said behaviour — parents enlist the twin strategies of punishment (which ranges from threats, or sadly at times, the use of physical violence) and reward (which either runs to instant gratification or a promise of gain in the future). These rewards typically manifest as bald-faced bribery, which is ironically a practice that is defined as immoral and even reprehensible behaviour as we grow older. Hence our often strained relationship with the theory.

So while the, ‘Do you want an ice cream or a smack?’ mentality seems a little outdated (although today, ice cream is passé as parents instead offer their little digital natives some screen time or a new app), this parental manipulation is mirrored in the world we see around us: at school as we learn to navigate our environment and play games ...

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