Archive for June, 2010

Carrots, sticks and motivation

Posted in book review/summary, psychology on June 29, 2010 by gohelpyourself

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us By Daniel H. Pink, 2009 Riverhead Books


By Anthony O. Alcantara

When we were kids, our parents would offer rewards if we got good grades. Say a shiny new red bicycle or a Mickey Mouse watch. When that didn’t work, they offered less palatable alternatives. They included a good whack in the behind or a one-week house arrest.

It’s pretty much the same with kids these days. And adults have graduated from shiny red bicycles to cars and big fat bonuses. A good whack in the behind has turned into a suspension or a demotion.

But do carrots and sticks work? Most of the time, they don’t, according to author Daniel H. Pink.

In his book Drive, he shows how rewards and punishments are the most outdated and misused tools in motivation on the planet. And we’ve all been misled.

Pink uses a software metaphor to describe the evolution of motivation. Motivation 1.0 was about survival. Food, shelter and sex were the only buttons to push. When the industrial revolution came, we discovered Motivation 2.0, which basically involves carrots and sticks, or rewards and punishments.

This version of motivation was quite effective then. But now that we’re in the 21st century, they don’t work most of the time. If we offer rewards to our kids when they do well in school, or punish them if their grades plummet like politicians’ approval ratings, we don’t inspire them to do things for their own good. They’ll respond only to rewards and threats of punishment.

Pink says these traditional “if-then” rewards have other undesirable and unintended drawbacks.

They can stifle creativity, lead to poor performance, and encourage bad behavior and short-term thinking. This applies to adults as much as to children. That’s why we have this mess with greedy and unscrupulous companies. While “if-then” rewards still work for rule-based routine tasks where intrinsic motivation and creativity don’t matter much, there’s a better alternative.

Pink calls them occasional “now that” rewards. You don’t announce them beforehand, of course.

There’s proof that “if-then” thinking costs a lot of money, both for individuals and companies. That’s because we have become a society where work is more creative and less routine compared to repetitive and back-breaking work during the industrial revolution.

Aside from that, the scientific discovery of intrinsic motivation compelled a few experts to tweak their concept of motivation. Extrinsic motivation involves aspirations for fame or wealth. But intrinsic motivation involves helping other people improve their lives or to realize one’s full potential. It involves a higher purpose in life.

It’s a little bit philosophical, and it reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I think is a misnomer since we can simultaneously pursue each one.

So what’s Daniel H. Pink’s solution? Motivation 3.0.

Pink says this will turn us from Type X (extrinsic) individuals to Type I (intrinsic) individuals. Motivation 3.0 involves three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy caters to our desire to direct our own lives. Mastery involves our urge to be better and better in things that matter. Purpose satisfies that need to be part of something larger than ourselves.

For autonomy, we need some leeway in doing things on our own, discovering things for ourselves, learning from our mistakes. As for mastery, we like to be able to assess ourselves and make measurements to see if we are doing better in what we do. Small steps and improvements matter.

And as for purpose, organizations are beginning to use language that emphasizes profit maximization with purpose maximization. These are organizations that build schools, create environment-friendly products, and offer education for the poor. Many individuals do the same.

To remember what Pink said in the book, I made an acronym: A.M.P. it up! That way I’ll remember autonomy, mastery and purpose so I can motivate and inspire myself and other people better.

I hope you’ll remember them, too. And please, don’t tell kids that you’ll give them a Sony Play Station if they get good grades.



Rules to live by

Posted in book review/summary on June 22, 2010 by gohelpyourself

Thumbs up for "Rules of Thumb." (Photo courtesy of

Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self by Alan M. Webber
270 pages, Harper Business 2009

By Anthony O. Alcantara

If experience is the best teacher, then rules of thumb are the gurus.

They’ve distilled the lessons for you so you don’t have to experience failure or repeat the same mistakes.

In his book Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber has collected 52 valuable truths that people don’t have to rediscover. Some of them you may have discovered on your own, some you may not agree with, but some would be gems you would like to keep.

But what makes Webber an authority? He is the cofounding editor of Fast Company magazine and the editorial director and managing editor of the Harvard Business Review. Those are the salient credentials.

The relevant ones are his talks with some of the world’s leading businessmen, politicians, philosophers, professors, Nobel Prize winners and other super achievers. That’s where he got his rules of thumb.

He has developed a long-time habit of collecting them. Armed with 3 by 5 cards wherever he goes, he jots down lessons he has learned from his interactions with many people.

Weber describes the story behind each rule.

For exmaple, Rule #10: A Good Question Beats a Good Answer.

It simply means that good questions are better than good or even great answers. Weber says “questions are how we learn.”

He learned about this rule from Jim Collins, the author of Good To Great. Because Good To Great achieved great success, Webber asked Collins what he was working on as a follow-up to a great book.

“I’m looking for a good question,” Collins told Webber. Good answer.

Webber said: “If you don’t ask the right question, it doesn’t matter what your answer is. And if you ask the right question, no matter what your answer, you will learn something of value.”

Here are some of my favorites:

Rule #16: Facts are Facts; Stories Are How We Learn. This rule simply means that telling people astounding facts is not a guarantee that they will remember them. Using stories will more likely do the job.

Rule #31: Everything communicates. The way you talk, the way you write, the way you dress… they all tell something about you.

Rule #33: Everything is a performance. This one’s a corollary to Rule #31. It is probably the author’s version of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage.”

Rule #39: “Serious Fun” Isn’t An Oxymoron; It’s How You Win. If we have fun at home or at malls, why can’t we have fun in the serious world of work? Google and a lot of other companies have done it.

Rule #45: Failure Isn’t Failing. Failure Is Failing To Try. This is another perspective on failure that I like. If this is true, then I believe trying in itself is success.

Rule #51: Take Your Work Seriously. Yourself, Not So. Sometimes we’re just too harsh on ourselves.

I’ve come up with my own rule of thumb as well: The best teachers are not experiences; they’re called rules of thumb.


This Baby Business

Posted in parenting on June 17, 2010 by gohelpyourself

Do babies need a high-tech feeding bottle? (Photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara
A few years ago, the thought of becoming a father occurred to me. It was just a random thought. There I was holding a baby in my mind. It was a very hazy vision. I knew I’d become a father someday, but it seemed too far away, much like the second coming.

But that particular second coming is just a few months away now. I realized that when my wife Em and I recently went to the baby section of SM.

I knew that department stores had spaces for baby stuff somewhere. But I didn’t realize it could occupy almost half of the 2nd floor of the SM Department Store at the SM Mall of Asia. This is definitely big business.

So we stop over to look at some feeding bottles. There’s a brand called Dr. Brown. Quite expensive–P2,399 for a pack of two 4-oz. bottles and two 8 oz. bottles. The bottles look hi-tech. According to the text on the package, the bottles retain vitamins A, C and E longer during feeding times compared to other brands.

They also prevent colic and are BPA-free. BPA, I later learned, means bisphenol A, an ingredient in plastic that is harmful to babies. The “claims” list is quite long. I think they’re working on cancer- and AIDS-preventing versions, too.

There are tubes inside the bottles. I imagine the milk going through a roller-coaster ride through the tubes and finally reaching the mouth of my baby, who then screams “Wheee!” in delight.

These bottles would make very happy babies indeed. I tell my wife put it in her list for consideration.

Then we come across this brand Avent that my wife was telling me about. It is even more expensive than Dr. Brown. A cool P2,799 for a similar pack of four bottles. I look at the box, expecting to read similar claims by Dr. Brown. I’m impressed. This brand claims to be better than all the others.

But something catches my eye. The brand is made by Philips, the same company that makes lighting equipment, television sets and other electronics. Wow. I imagine my baby drinking her milk as I push a button that lights up the bottle. Perhaps some mutli-colored dancing lights, or drinking lights in this case.

I am a little disappointed to find out there are none. But I think it’s a cool idea. Maybe I should make a patent and sell it to the highest bidder.

We also check out the cribs. There are those made of wood, those made of plastic and those made of metal. One interesting crib made by Chicco had a vibrator. It’s supposed to sooth babies by simulating human contact. But I suppose some parents will find them stimulating and pleasurable, too.

Next we check out an array of strollers. One stroller impresses me. It looks sturdy enough for a car crash, which will justify its P20,000 price tag. It comes with a car seat and 5-star amenities, too–a beverage holder for the stroller pusher, and compartments for other stuff. Thank goodness this one doesn’t have a vibrator.

After surveying the strollers, we go to the baby slings. We’ll need one, too, when we take baby out to the mall. There’s this baby sling made of very colorful and fashionable cloth but they look too feminine for me.

There’s one that I really like. It’s made by Maclaren and it looks like a knapsack. Initially I thought it’s the same company that makes F1 racing cars, but that’s McLaren without an “a” between “m” and “c.” Nevertheless, it looks hi-tech enough and, considering the P5,800 price tag, it should.

On the box are images of a father and a mother with babies in their baby slings. Such pictures of security and happiness. They look ready to go bungee jumping or sky diving.

I then check the material of the baby sling and feel it in my hands. It feels impregnable. It’s probably made of Kevlar. This, I conclude, is just perfect for taking baby for a walk in Iraq.

And just to make sure I’m not missing any cool features, I check if there are any dancing lights or vibrators. There are none.

This baby business is becoming interesting indeed.


Mindful learning and Aikido

Posted in health and fitness, learning, martial arts on June 14, 2010 by gohelpyourself

Fujimaki Hiroshi, 6th dan shihan of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, together with Ton Alcantara, 1st dan shihan wannabe of the Makati Aikido Club.


By Anthony O. Alcantara 

Recognizing distinctions. That’s what mindful learning is all about. The same thing taught or done over and over again is meaningless unless you seek out the distinctions that make it fresh, meaningful and memorable. 

 It reminds me of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. And it reminds me of those days when I did those stretching exercises hoping to become six feet tall.  

Today I’m still 5 feet 6 inches. My days of insanity are over, though they still occur occasionally when I’m bored. I’m reminded again that mindful repetition is the way to go.  

Thus I gleaned three key takeaways during Fujimaki Hiroshi’s Aikido seminar recently at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. He’s a 6th dan shihan, or master instructor, from Japan.  

Ton Alcantara feels the heat in the dojo. Participants pay for the excellent Aikido teaching and the sauna service.


1. There are many ways to skin a cat, but there is only one essence of a technique.  

Fujimaki Sensei, lamented that the brown belts who took the exam failed to satisfactorily execute different ways to do a technique. He said it’s one technique, but there are many ways to do it depending on the hand positions, whether low, medium or high.  

It’s not that the brown belts had no idea what Fujimaki Sensei was talking about. They just failed to understand what Fujimaki Sensei wanted to see. Perhaps Fujimaki Sensei’s English is not that good. Or perhaps the brown belts were a little nervous.  

In any case, I was reminded again about finding the essence of the technique. It may be important to do different versions of a technique, especially during exams, but efficient and effective execution borne out of a mastery of its essence… that’s the sweet spot.  

If you break down the technique to its bare essentials and find a way to apply these in a real fighting situation, you’re in much better shape as a martial artist. Sticking to the essence is better than having a fanciful repertoire.  

Ton folds his hakama after a session of "I'll kick your ass if you kick mine" Aikido practice. It's all give and take.


Fujimaki Sensei also taught about keeping your center, which some say is about two inches below your navel. It’s your center of gravity, center of balance. You get your power from your center. Each movement should emanate from it.  

Easier said than done. Sometimes I forget to apply this myself, confident that I’ve done the techniques thousands of times. But mindful movements can help. And I realized that keeping your center is about asserting yourself, asserting your presence in front of your opponent. For me, it’s a new way to think about it.  

Your opponent is trying to do you harm. So you stand your ground and face the threat not with the intention to clash, but with the intention to neutralize the threat quickly and with the least possible pain. Just like breaking your opponent’s arm instead of breaking his neck. Or perhaps breaking a finger instead of an arm, or rewarding him with a cheek with an imprint of your palm and a reddish blush on to go with it, instead of an eye with a very dark eye shadow, whichever seems appropriate at the moment.  

Ton smiles before the camera together with the somewhat unwilling Fujimaki Sensei and his first Aikido sensei way back in college. I think his name is Kozuma.


3. Complacency and pride ought to have no place in Aikido.  

The senseis, or teachers, of the examinees received a gentle reprimand. Fujimaki Sensei said it was the fault of the teachers that most examinees failed to do different versions of a technique he asked for.  

While all the examinees passed, Fujimaki Sensei exhorted the senseis to shape up. Even the simple rituals of bowing and entering the mat during exams must be revisited.  

I guess sometimes even experienced practitioners take many things for granted. Many are tempted to think that the way they do their techniques is the best.  

It’s probably human nature. But Fujimaki Sensei reminded us that complacency and pride are an undesirable combination in Aikido.

So these three distinctions relating to the essence of a technique, asserting your presence, and the danger of complacency and pride have made the seminar valuable for me. And I’m sure many others learned something, too.