The key point here is that removing Square Wheels has widespread, natural systemic reinforcing impacts for improving organizational results. It is a direct and simple way to impact results, everywhere.

I am a behaviorist from way back, getting one of those doctorate thingies and playing with “behavioral engineering” back in the late 70s and working with people like Tom Gilbert and Ed Feeney and Ken Junkins. The main approach was to identify critically leveraged, high-impact behaviors and then set up mechanisms to implement changes systemically, to give performers self-reinforcing feedback that enables performance improvement. It was an interesting and effective approach that certainly has applications today in so many situations. (More on feedback here)

Feedback is all about alignment and engagement, since it focuses on giving people the information they need to be high performers. It focuses on best practices and things that can be improved with focus.

We see a LOT of this in many of the gamification approaches to accelerated learning and training in general.

In reading an excellent whitepaper on gamification in general, there was some confusion in using the term “negative reinforcement” that I thought might be useful for a blog, since it does share some different enlightening information. I even did an illustration that anchors it and shows why it would have a positive impact.

Negative reinforcement is commonly used as an alternative phrase meaning punishment.

They are NOT the same. There are three things here:

  1. Positive reinforcement works when some behavior occurs and it results in a positive outcome or response, positive from the viewpoint of the individual or the team. Positive reinforcement increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring in the future.
  2. Punishment works when some behavior occurs and a negative outcome or response occurs. Punishment reduces the likelihood of that behavior occurring in the future. It is a negative outcome.
  3. Negative reinforcement works when some behavior occurs and it results in the removal of some aversive stimulus of some kind. The removal, contingent on the behavior, causes an INCREASE in the behavior. It is a positive outcome.

There are a lot of issues involved in any stimulus / response situations. There are intrinsic rewards and extrinsic rewards and contingent and non-contingent rewards and a whole lot of “past experience” operating to determine impacts. Perceived (non-actual) links between stimulus and response can generate superstitious behaviors (article here) such as blowing on dice or wearing lucky hats.

Intrinsic rewards are personal to people while extrinsic ones (like money) are added and can generate all sorts of unpredicted impacts. (more on extrinsic rewards here and here ). Candidly, I do NOT like extrinsic rewards, since most set up competition and generate both winners as well as losers. Many people (as many as 40%) have also learned that they never win, so why even try.

So, why does generating a discussion about Square Wheels® work so well to generate motivation and engagement? Why is it so bombproof as a tool for organizational development and innovation? Because it works something like this:

Negative Reinforcement and Square Wheels and intrinsic motivation

By removing some Square Wheels, the things that work but do not work smoothly, and replacing them with Round Wheels, you do the workers the favor of helping them remove some of the aversive aspects of their work and workplace. This increases the likelihood they will repeat the behaviors, both individually and collectively. You build teamwork, alignment, and collaboration and you improve communications and you get positive actions like these:

Intrinsic Motivation, Square Wheels and LEGO by Scott Simmerman

You get to go #morebetterfaster.



For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

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Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group



Also published on Medium.