Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What if you won the reverse lottery?

I met a man with the strangest problem the other day. He was trying to lower his salary to $1 a year, but his boss wouldn't let him. Yes, it certainly sounds like a good problem to have.

I know what you're thinking. "Rich bastard. He can just donate that money to me." Or maybe, "I'll pay him $1 a year to clean my house." But alas, the truth is more complicated than that and originates from his desire to Change the World. He actually used to be a software engineer at Google. For those of you who don't know, Google not only allows but encourages its engineers to spend 20% of their working hours working on anything they felt passionate about. Sounds crazy right?

Well, this guy felt that the world would be a much better place if people learned how to be "emotionally intelligent." I know that phrase has many meanings, but in this case, it basically meant learning how to be at peace with yourself and others. So he spent 20% of his time creating a curriculum based loosely on meditation. He started volunteer-based classes and invited guest lecturers to come into work.

Now, this began taking more and more of his time (after all, 20% is just a guideline). One day his boss decided that he wasn't really an engineer anymore. So, this being the wonderful world of Google, his boss helped him transfer over to Human Resources so that he could pursue this full-time as his job. Wow.

So why does this guy want only $1 a year when he's getting paid a full salary to pursue his dreams? Well, it's his dream, and he wants to be free from the ties of a "boss" and do things because he wants to, not because he's being paid to. But then why doesn't he just quit if he can afford it? It's hard to make change without a lever, and Google is one big lever (and the food is good.) Like many people who retire but don't, he works because of his ability to have an impact, not for the money.

So that opens up an interesting question. You've all heard the question before of "What would you do if you won a million dollars?" Most people at some point in their answer say something like "I wouldn't go to work anymore." OK, well, what if you won the reverse lottery and only got paid $1 a year at your job, or any job. Assume you don't have to worry about money. Would you act differently in your job? Would you feel you had more freedom in your job and become MORE motivated? The book "Drive" by Daniel Pink talks about the things that create intrinsic motivation in humans (I'll give you a hint, one of them is not money). I won't get into it, but check it out if you're interested.

But now try this. What if everyone had the wonderful luxury that this man has of getting paid $1 a year. Would everyone be more motivated? This is starting to sound like communism, and we all know how that turned out. Except maybe if you take communism, only apply it to people who have worked for a while and have already chosen a job which they are passionate about... well, who knows?

1 comment:

  1. Many CEOs get paid $1.. particularly those with "principles" An example is John Mackey from Wholefoods. You can find out more about CEO compensation here: http://www.equilar.com/CEO_Compensation/Whole_Foods_Market_John_P._Mackey.php