The Carrot and The Stick

The Carrot and The Stick, David T Rosen

The concept of the carrot and the stick is something that most people should be familiar with. The earliest recorded use of the phrase was in December 1948 in The Economist magazine. The concept is drawn from the idea of a cart driver using a carrot suspended in front of his or her horse, mule, etc. just out of reach to motivate it to constantly move towards it, while holding a stick behind it that it will try to get away from for fear of being struck with it. This is a very basic system of positive and negative reinforcement. The carrot acts as the reward, while the stick acts as a punishment.

It is believed by some that this turn of phrase is erroneous, and that it in fact refers to the use of a carrot on a stick, hung out of reach of the driver’s beast of burden of choice with no negative reinforcement to back it up. This is a concept far more to my liking, and one you should keep in mind when it comes to your business practices. You see, negative reinforcement creates a negative environment. Chances are, a negative working environment is one of the reasons you decided to strike out on your own on the path to PIE in the first place. So now that you’re self-employed and working for no one but yourself, why perpetuate that? Why continue to subject yourself (and potentially your team) to a negative working environment, when it’s no longer necessary. There are untold numbers of studies on why negative reinforcement is ineffective (a quick Google search will provide you with more than you could possibly read), so why make use of it?

The answer is you shouldn’t. In fact, you should avoid it at all costs. Positive reinforcement is by far more effective a motivator, so I put forth that you should use it exclusively.

I’ve spoken before about rewarding yourself for a job well done. This is an example of positive reinforcement. A calculated system of rewards will do far more to motivate you to get the job done. But why just reward yourself? Chances are you’ve got a great group of people working with you. Get them in on the rewards too. Bonuses, company meals, there are untold ways to show your team that you appreciate their hard work, making them all the more motivated to continue working hard. Create a positive working environment for them, and they will do all they can to stay there. Subjecting them to the kind of negative reinforcement tactics you probably experienced during your tenure as a 9-5er will only cause them to resent you. And worse, you risk becoming the very kind of boss you were trying to get away from when you became self-employed in the first place.

Stay positive my friends. Reward yourself and your team. Use the carrot on a stick, rather than the carrot and the stick, and you’ll find your working life will go a lot more smoothly.

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