Designing Motivation

Excerpt from Comic Wars, a book on Marvel Comic’s near bankruptcy and uncanny recovery:

“[Jim] Shooter had a huge impact during his nine-year run as editor. He pushed Marvel’s corporate owners to introduce good medical insurance and a system of royalties, sharing the wealth if a comic book sold more than one hundred thousand copies. The quality of the books noticeably improved, as did sales. Marvel commanded 70 percent of the marketplace, and some of the writers and artists were earning over half a million dollars per year.

Shooter said that the old way, simply paying a set fee per page, discouraged anyone from taking more time and care to produce a terrific page “I started finding ways to get people more money, to find better creative people and hold on to them. Because the problem is that an artist started to get good but he couldn’t make enough money in comics, so he’d go off into the advertising business. And you’d loose them.”

Why should a designer or IA learn about business? I can hardly think of a better example than the one described above. Without an understanding of business practices, a terrific creative (like Jim Shooter’s predecessor Stan Lee) can’t make meaningful change in the quality of a product.

Making good work isn’t just about loving what you do; it’s also about feeding your family while you do it. Stress about health insurance, making rent, paying your bills can drive even a fierce comic fan into a new line of work. What is so impressive about Shooter’s model is it not only rewarded good work, but created a star system which fed the dreams of young artists, encouraging them to starve awhile until they could make it big. The promise of a big payoff is critical to a talent-based line of work.

How are people motivated to do excellent work in your company?

Are they?

Is excellence rewarded or reliable mediocrity?