#108/111: Punished by Rewards

This is one of the books where I just read the title and bought it. Recently, I talked with a friend about rewards and rules and we noticed that they often lead to out crawling from intrinsic motivations. He said “if I have to do something in 48 hours, I will take at least 48 hours - if I can choose my time freely, I probably will do it immediately.” You probably had similar experiences.

Some of these observations will be true. Alfie Kohen wrote lots of other books about schooling and the use of rewards, so this bit in the book is especially interesting.

His main objective is a critique of pop behaviorism, i.e. you have to give something to get something or equivalent with punishments. If I want the kids to learn about history, I have to get them grades. If I want my kids to eat healthier I have to reward them after eating. Or in business settings: If I want my employees to get three new accounts I have to pay them extra for each one. It’s so inherent in our thinking that it have to be challenged.

So what is Kohn saying about this? I read a great amount of studies and presented his findings. The first and most fundamental is that rewards often don’t work and sometimes they worsen the situation. There are some things to understand.

Firstly, rewards punish. A typical setting is some superior (teacher, boss, parent) who compliments you if you did something great. What is if your superior doesn’t compliment you? It’s basically punishment. Punishment and rewards each side of one coin. There are study that found that even compliments can be bad if they are linked to some objective. That’s important! Unexpected rewards sometimes are better than none but as long as you link it so a objective it basically become some form of punishment.

Secondly, rewards distorts your intentions. If you offer your kid a buck for each carrot she eats, she will eat more carrots because of the buck not because of the carrot. The eating of a carrot is the unpleasant thing to do to get the buck. You wanted to promote eating healthy food and instead promoted that healthy food is unpleasant.

Thirdly, rewards crowd out intrinsic motivation. There’s some kind of myth that you can add motivations, that is if you are intrinsic motivated and someone gives you money/praise/etc for doing this task that you will be even more motivated. Actually, motivation doesn’t work that way. If you are not motivated at all, then of course, extrinsic motivation motivates you to do the task. However, if you already are intrinsic motivated the extrinsic motivation can crowd your complete intrinsic motivation out and replace it with extrinsic motivation. This effect is rather famous in economics and studied in psychology.

You will probably think that extrinsic motivation isn’t good but we don’t have any alternatives. Kohn himself thinks that it’s hard because extrinsic motivators are so easy to create. Just throw some money in and you’re done. But there are alternatives which aren’t so easy to implement but have a less damaging effect.

The first one is collaboration. Work with your subordinate together to solve the problem or let him work with outer people. Alfie Kohn cites an interesting case where a mother went crazy because her child don’t wanted to go to sleep at 9pm. She tried nearly everything but she never tried to understand why her child don’t wanted to go to sleep. The same goes for pupils who come to repeatedly to late to school or unmotivated employees. Talk to them and help to solve them the problem. If you’re employee doesn’t like to work at your place then it’s probably the best for both of you that he looks for another job. It’s not the easy way but it does solve problems instead of treating symptoms.

Secondly, content is important. It’s rather easy in think about it in the schooling field. Don’t let kids learn things that are boring. For example, he talked about dates in history and I agree. The interesting thing about the Franz Ferdinand’s dead isn’t that he died on a Sunday or at June 28 but rather that this coincidence lead to the first World War. You can make probably most things interesting and you should!

The last one is choice. The more freedom you allow the more intrinsic motivated people will be. For example, he shows that for uninteresting work the best one can do is, to let people handle it the way they want. Even for interesting work this has a positive effect and the business literature begins to include it. We let people work from their home or they don’t have to be in office from 8 to 5 but rather just have to get some task done till some date. This exactly the choice which helps to increase people’s motivation.

This book got so many interesting studies in it that I recommend this book to nearly everyone but to everyone who is some form of authority: Parents, teacher, supervisors.


#65/111: Writing White Papers

What is it about?

How to write a white paper? Michael A. Stelzner, who has written over 130 white papers, explains his procedure of writing a white paper from interviewing experts to offering the solution.

What can I learn?

Interview experts: If you aren’t an expert on a topic you could become one or you could interview some. Firstly, you should identify the experts. Write them an email with the most important information (topic, estimate amount of time and questions) and ask them if they could answer your questions.

State the problem in depth: If you are writing a white paper, you should focus on the problem. If you are writing a 6-12 page white paper, circa 2-3 pages should be on the problem. Some people don’t exactly know what the problem is. Let’s take IPv6 as an example. The biggest problem at the moment with IPv4 is its limited amount of IP addresses. You could write about the implications and how IPv6 solves them. Moreover, you could write about additional features of IPv6.

Offer generic solutions first: If you go to the solution, you shouldn’t try to sell your service/product yet. Firstly, offer a generic solution which everybody could implement on their own. This will maintain your credibility. After that you can talk about your specific solution. Tell your readers how it is different and superior to the generic one.


Writing White Papers is a nice book which shows you the basics of writing white papers. Some chapters are disappointing because they are very short. However, if you are a writer and want to go into writing white papers, this could be a valuable asset.


#53/111: Running Lean

What is it about?

Ash Maurya takes Customer Development & the Business Model Canvas and applies them onto web development. He shows step for step how to find a viable market.

What can I learn?

Test hypotheses: Building your business model is about iteration, i.e. you test something, if it doesn’t work, you are going to try something different. To actually reject assumptions, you have to write these as hypotheses. For example, instead of "my blog will be a useful marketing device", you should write: "my blog will lead to 20 conversions by the end of the month". This allows you to actually reject your hypotheses and move to the next ones.

Talk to your customers: Do they think that you solve an important problem? Are they ready to pay for it? It’s better to know these things as soon as possible because you can easily change things at this level.

The Lean Canvas®: Above you see the Lean Canvas which will probably remind you of the Business Model Canvas. Each of these panels should be tested. You begin with the Problem and Customer Segment. Which problem of whom could be solved? And then slowly focus on the other panels. If you tested each panel successfully, you have build a sustainable business model.


After reading The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development, I was pretty impressed by Running Lean because it achieved presenting a similar topic much better. Ash Maurya took the time to show you how to go from one step to another and he supports each steps with tips. If you are interested in building a market-driven company this is definitely a book you should read. Recommendation!


#28/111: Questions That Sell

What is it about?

Selling more expensive products is more than just selling cookie cutter solutions. Paul Cherry helps you to find out what your customer wants and what he really wants.

Key points?

Let the customer do the talking: Often salespeople try not to lose control and decide to do the talking. That is a bad habit and happens often. Instead ask good(!) question and let your customer do the talking. You will learn much more about her and her company.

Ask good questions: A key feature of good questions is that it encourages people to think. For example: bad - “How old is your company?”, good - “How did your company change in the last 10 years?”

Help to quantify the problems: After you gathered information about their company and their problems ask them questions about the impact of these problems. “What does it mean for your company that your vendor supplies you two months too late?”,  “How much money are you losing on this per year?”, etc. Don’t try to sell your product at this point.

What do they really want?: Often there’s is more than just the product, there are personal implications. What does it mean to your customer when he can’t reduce the costs? What would happen if he could change the company to the better? Often people want more appreciation, security or success. Try to identify these key attributes and help your customer reach his goals.

Not everybody will buy from you: It’s simple. If a prospect don’t want to hear about your product or don’t have to power to make a decision, don’t bother her. Just leave and talk to another person in the company or go to the next prospect.


Questions That Sell contains a lot of exercises and two long case studies which makes it a great workbook. I like the clear and non BS approach which helps you to deepen the learning material. If you need selling at some point this book will improve your ability.