Participation, motivation and success

Success. Sourced from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Commons-emblem-success.svgI’m about to embark on a few academic analysis exercises, from investigation of the value of social communication in project delivery, to the assessment of objectives and outcomes for existing projects. It promises to be a rather challenging period, not least because I have to grapple with several undefined terms in project literature, and I need to ensure my findings are communicated in a manner that is useful and accessible (rather than simply buried in peer reviewed journal articles).

A few of the issues I need to address are:

* Defining success: should this be measured only in terms of objectives for projects? Or is ‘penetration’ of the projects (awareness, exposure, adoption) a more reasonable metric? Should the financial sustainability of the projects be considered? Or are learnings and iterative development a more reasonable measure of success? If success should actually be a hybrid of these outcomes, how do you weight each metric? What matters most?

* Defining participation: what is it to participate in anything? Does it involve tangible (or intangible but perceived) outcomes?

* Barriers to creativity and collaboration: what influence does structure and organisation have over creatvity? Are there weaknesses in creative development for undefined projects? If absolute artistic licence fails to motivate collaboration, do projects need clearer instructions – or at least tasklists?

The thing about collaborative open source communities is that research (such as that from Oreg and Nov, 2007) has demonstrated that reputation, self-development and opportunistic motivations far outweigh altruistic motives for contributing to software development. Further, reputation and self-development motivations are inextricably tied to financial positioning of contributors.

In effect, while profit may not be a specific and unabashed motivation of contributors, it certainly is an outcome of reputational and self-development motives.

Yet there is a strong rhetoric amongst some communities – be they software developers, creative businesses or social commentators – that financial motivations have a negative impact on creativity, and that collaboration with those who are financially motivated is either unpleasant or creatively debilitating. This concerns me, as I wonder whether such rhetoric is ultimately self-fulfilling; that people who propogate such theories effectively bar themselves from creative engagement with those who may be more financially motivated than themselves. And I wonder if that prejudice is perhaps the most serious creative barrier of all.

Dan Pink has spoken at length on how intrinsic motivation functions in both social and professional contexts, and I think his theories warrant application in my forthcoming analyses. I suspect that in defining the motivations for creative participation, and finding mechanisms to overcome motivational differences could be one heck of a recipe for success – in all its forms.

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