Sunday’s Dilbert & Deming’s Demotivation Curve


In the midst of Super Bowl party prep, you might have seen Sunday's Dilbert.

In it, the pointy-haired boss reminisces about when Alice was “full of hope and optimism” and then “devolved into an angry, hateful creature.”

The unaware manager says “no one know what caused it” but it only took “about a week”:


The boss apparently views Alice as “dead wood.” But, this strip reminds me of what I wrote about back in 2007  and a great quote from Peter Scholtes:

If you're firing dead wood, didn't you hire live trees to start with?

And it reminds of of Dr. Deming talking about how an employee's motivation could only go down over time (as I blogged about here) and as illustrated on page 121  of his book  The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education If management stopped demotivating their employees... lean.  The “forces of destruction” can only crush intrinsic motivation… as Dilbert's boss crushed out of Alice (and everybody else there).


Deming wrote:

The accompanying diagram (below) shows some of the forces of destruction that come from the present style of reward, and their effects. what they do is to squeeze out from an individual, over his lifetime, his innate intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity. They build into him fear, self-defense, extrinsic motivation. We have been destroying our people, from toddlers on through the university, and on the job. We must preserve the power of intrinsic motivation, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, joy in learning, that people are born with.

How do we stop demotivating people instead of crushing them and then trying to re-motivate them?

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  1. Bob Emiliani says

    Let people think, be creative, improve, and have fun.

  2. Patrick Anderson says

    This was a very helpful share, Mark. I particularly like the forces of destruction graph. An additional force of destruction that I have found is the presence of unresolved childhood trauma in many adult workers, and many students in public and private schools as well. Most schools exacerbate the destructive forces, but one school, Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, has managed to turn the students adversity into a force for self assessment and improvement. The link is here:

  3. Romeo hlortsi says

    Commitment is the enemy of resistance, for it is the serious promise to press on, to get up, no matter how many times you are knocked down.

  4. Rick Morrow says

    Mark, what a great sharing from a great man, Dr. Deming, that is. The cartoon isn’t bad, either. One of my learning’s is to “Hire your boss.” Thanks for sharing yet another gold nugget for leaders.

  5. Mike Stoecklein says

    Thanks for sharing Mark . I’m surprised Alice is still working at that place . one time I heard Dr. Deming say, “without transformation of management you’ll have working for you only those who could not find a job somewhere else”. Mike

  6. Al Jones says

    These are great pieces Mike. I have come to believe that a lot of the power relationships we experience through our lives bleeds away the creativity, enthusiasm and collaboration in many organizations. The best example of this in current organizations is the performance systems that are a heritage from not only pre-internet communities but pre WW1 when “modern management” had it’s birth place. I’m working with a small client where we are trying to ensure productivity and accountability while at the same time increasing internal collaboration. The process relies almost exclusively on self assessment. It is slow going changing deeply embedded systemic beliefs.

  7. […] Sunday’s Dilbert & Deming’s Demotivation Curve by Mark Graban – “The ‘forces of destruction’ can only crush intrinsic motivation… as Dilbert’s boss crushed out of Alice (and everybody else there)… How do we stop demotivating people instead of crushing them and then trying to re-motivate them?” […]

  8. […] 2013: Sunday’s Dilbert & Deming’s Demotivation Curve […]

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