People are lazy. There's no question about it. I can't count the number of times I've picked up the phone, ordered Chinese food, then driven to the restaurant and back, simply to avoid the effort required to boil spaghetti. People don't work efficiently unless there's a definite reason to do so. This presents a problem, since there are countless threats that need to be solved (disease, famine, William Shatner, etc.) Any society that properly motivates people will be, on the whole, far better off.
This is why Communism cannot work. Boiled down, its motto is, "Whatever you do, you'll get the same (lack of) reward." You might as well tell a ten year old that she'll get a "C" whether she studies or not. Sure, many people will do the minimum necessary to get by, but nobody is going to bother putting in the intense effort needed for true innovation. In contrast, Capitalism offers vast improvements by using money to reward creativity, innovation, or luck. As a result, our society is far more productive and successful.
However, money isn't always the best motivator. Need someone to do something for you? Try to bribe him with a $5 bill, and you'll likely be told exactly where you can put it. However, bet him $5 that he can't do that very same thing, and you'll quickly have yourself a deal. People like a little extra money, but they love to win challenges. The trick is finding out exactly what motivates people.
I can't speak for all people, but I can tell what motivates me. As I hinted before, one thing I love is a good challenge. A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about a competition to make as many words as possible by scrambling the letters of a US city. The prize would amount to little more than recognition in an email. The sensible thing, of course, would be to ignore it and spend my time on something productive. Instead, I skipped all my classes for an entire week, locked myself in front of a computer, and wrote a program to automatically scramble words using an English dictionary. To boot, I used a road atlas and manually typed in the name of every city in the United States, looking for the best choice. All told, I spent about 60 hours on the competition. Though I didn't win, it was worth every minute.
Another thing that motivates me? Women. This should be no surprise, as most men feel the same way. I spent the better part of my college years chasing after a woman in my class. (Hi Eva.) Clearly, more effort was expended on her than on such trivial matters as studying, eating, etc. We spent a lot of time together and remain good friends to this day, though, naturally, we never dated. However, this does not matter: The quest is often as much, if not more fun, than the goal itself.
More recently, I considered driving to Canada, 9 hours each way, to purchase a 12 year old issue of TV Guide. Why spend 18 hours driving to a different country just for an outdated bit of reading material? Simply to win a dinner with a woman I like. Of course, I could have simply asked her to go to dinner, and there's a good chance she would've said yes. To be honest, I'm not sure why I didn't. I can only assume it's because people love a quest, and the satisfaction that comes with doing something that someone said can't be done.
(Since then, I've come across an emerging technology called 'mail'. Similar to its electronic counterpart, it allows physical items, such as old magazines, to be effortlessly transferred between places such as US and Canada. Apparently, it's still in its infancy, as items can take many days for delivery. Time will tell if it catches on.)
My point is that challenges involving women can provide powerful motivation. Am I alone in these feelings? Certainly not. When I mentioned this idea to my friend Dave, his immediate response was, "I would personally solve the Middle East crisis for a date with Soleil Moon Frye." Here is a man whose only tie to the Middle East is eating an occasional Gyro. A man who once watched an entire episode of Full House because he couldn't find the remote. And yet he's willing to get off his precious couch and work just to meet Punky Brewster.
Until now, we've ignored these motivators, even tried to pretend they didn't exist. I say that we, as a society, should embrace these tendencies and put them to good use. Offer an evening with Neve Campbell, and you'll have a cure for cancer within months. World's energy problems? Fiona Apple. Many of you may point out that women have these same tendencies. This is quite true. World Hunger could just as likely be solved by raffling off a night with George Clooney. The concept's the same. The key is proper motivation: It's simple, effective, and everyone wins.
I welcome any thoughts or suggestions.
Update 3/14/2002: I have plans to fly to Santa Cruz, CA to have Chinese food with Beth Ellyn. Why fly 2,500 miles for a meal? Is it because it makes a great story? Do I long for a quest? Is it because I really like General Tso's Chicken? Well, it does make a great story, it'll be a fun quest, and I love General Chicken. The real reason, however, is simpler: I enjoy Beth Ellyn's company. :-)