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Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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Today's Big Idea: Modern Management

The Big Idea for Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Big Think Associate Editor Jason Gots tells a story about the shortcomings of carrot-and-stick management strategies:

When I was a kid, maybe 11 years old, my parents tried out a motivation trick on me and my sister. There were two empty jars in the kitchen. Each time one of us did something good, some number of macaroni would go into the jar – more for a big chore, like weeding the yard, fewer for something more trivial, like cleaning our rooms. There were lines on the jar representing different rewards. Fill the jar 1/4 way up and you could see a movie of your choice. Save up until the jar was full, and you'd get a new bike. 

The system lasted about a month. Why? Because my sister and I – two smart-aleck kids – found it transparent, demeaning, and (therefore) totally demotivating. 

Attempting to motivate grownup employees with bonuses on the one hand and reprimands on the other is similarly simplistic and doomed to failure. Modern management strategies, informed by psychology, take into account the complexities of human beings in an attempt to reconcile their individual needs with the needs of the organization as a whole. At worst, this results in half-hearted propaganda designed to make employees feel special. At best, it represents a fundamental shift toward a more human-centered way of doing business. 


  1. 1 Leader, Invest in Your People.
    Jason Gots Think Tank
  2. 2 Promoted to the Level of Incompetence
    Big Think Editors Inside Employees' Minds
  3. 3 The Four Day Work Week
    Jason Gots Inside Employees' Minds
  4. 4 What Really Happens At Work?
    Big Think Editors Inside Employees' Minds

Today's Big Idea: Modern Ma...

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