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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

Employer Practice, Worker Motivation, and My Encounter with a Genius

In addition to private clinical practice and writing, I’ve worked at hospitals, clinics, and a Community Mental Health Center, where I had both service and administrative responsibilities. While the clinical work was mostly enjoyable, the working atmosphere varied. At some settings, the co-workers were a boon; at others, the atmosphere could be accurately labeled as being “intermittently psychotic.”
The greatest stress and waste of time were caused by political intrigues. Years after graduate school, I told my (retired) graduate school adviser that there was one thing we hadn’t been taught: how to survive politically in organizations. He readily agreed; scholars aren’t known for their political skill.
Some current business practices, as described in recent newspaper articles, would seem to inhibit creativity. Long-term motivation can’t be gained through simplistic reward/punishment schemes. It naturally arises (“effectance motivation”) from the enjoyment gained through fully using one’s abilities. Moreover, a manager who is unable to rank their workers for creativity and productivity without using the increasingly popular anonymous peer communication–which invites intrigue–is a poor leader indeed.
One problem might be that some jobs are best done using robots rather than by trying to mold humans into machines. Such a change would force social and economic disruption but this is another matter.
Last year, while riding Amtrak north from Washington, I spoke with my young seatmate. Of scraggly appearance and slow speech, I instantly concluded that he worked at some lowly task: bagging groceries or as a helper at a carwash. Instead, he turned out to be a genius.
Though Caucasian, he was fully fluent in Japanese, studying it since grade school and having reached the limit of what an American school could teach. He intended to get a doctorate, wanted a career in research, and his father was a cancer researcher. He was in his second year at an Ivy League college and each of his teachers was pressuring him to major in their field. I suggested that he was so gifted that he should construct his own unique path, that his life would lack fulfillment were it to be molded by another with even the best intention.
I added that, if choosing to work for a large organization, he should create a side business to use other of his talents: perhaps give lectures in Japanese on the latest American drug research to visiting Japanese executives, which might well be lucrative too.
I also advised that he should associate with the smartest boss that he could find. They would give him the least trouble, not being jealous of his abilities.
Being prone to irreverent humor, I had the following fantasy upon leaving the train. After gaining his doctorate, this youth would work in Japan. There, being cherished for his talent, he would be introduced to a Japanese princess whom he would marry. Following this, his parents would gain the ultimate one-upmanship, proudly proclaiming to other parents: “Your child is a doctor but ours became a Prince!”
Sadly, the best responses are often thought of too late.
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