Provision #658: Be Fair

Laser Provision

Fairness conjures up notions of even-handed accounting. Think balance scales, with no one having more or less than anyone else. Although a case can be made for some measure of economic parity in life, fairness also means giving all people the opportunity to meet their needs. This goes far beyond subsistence-level accounting; it goes to the heart of what makes life worth living. When we honor, respect, and cooperate with the striving of people to meet their many different needs, we make life much more satisfying for all.

LifeTrek Provision


I have been enjoying Dan Pink’s new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink identifies three motivational theories, what he calls motivational operating systems, and he makes a strong case, including good evidence-based research, for a humanistic orientation that plays to intrinsic interests such as fairness. Fairness, according to Pink, is not so much an objective calculation by “the dismal science” of economics, it is a rather a subjective calculation based upon the feelings and needs of human beings in the moment.

The calculus of that subjective equation makes all the difference in the world when it comes to motivation. Consider Pink’s descriptions of the three operating systems:

  • Motivation 1.0: Survival. For most of human history, during our hunter-gatherer days, human beings were no different than other animals. We did our best to survive. And as we did, human beings circumnavigated the globe by following coastlines. There’s only so much food to be hunted and gathered in any one area, so as populations grew, people would move on. It was not unlike what happens every year with the nesting swans on our lake: they have their brood, raise them, teach them how to fly, and move them along.
  • Motivation 2.0: Success. As people ran out of coastlines to spread out to, we settled down into larger and larger communities. That trend continues to this very day. In 1800, only 2% of people lived in cities. Today, more than half of all the world’s people live in cities, for the first time in human history. In 1960, the number of cities with more than 1 million people totaled 111. That number doubled in 25 years and quadrupled in 50 years. Megacities, with more than ten million people, grew from two to 20.

    Such complexity led to systems of organization based upon an extension of the survival ethic: people were rewarded with goodies when they did well (success) and punished with deprivation when they did poorly (failure). Because people were settled and more able to hoard their goodies, this system of organization led to great economic and political disparities. Some people ended up with great wealth and power, making them able to dole out rewards and punishments as extrinsic motivators, while other people ended up impoverished and powerless.

    This system continues to be used widely to this very day. It is the engine of industry and the foundation of capitalism. In its most extreme forms, people get treated like laboratory animals, induced to behave in certain ways through the use of targeted, “if-then,” “scientific management” principles: If you do this, then you will get that. Motivation in this operating system boils down rewarding the good and punishing the bad. It’s all about the extrinsic motivation of success.

  • Motivation 3.0: Satisfaction. A funny thing happened on the way to scientific management: it didn’t always work. In fact, sometimes it did more harm than good. People know when they are being manipulated and they don’t appreciate being treated like laboratory animals. They also don’t like huge discrepancies of wealth and power, as evidenced by the current outrage over the breakdown and rescue of the global financial system. The rescue, as it turns out, makes sure that rich institutions and individuals stay rich while the poor stay poor.

    Such dissatisfaction arises when people lack fairness. It’s not fair that some people have the freedom to set their own goals, develop their potential, express their personality, network their creations, and enjoy the fruit of their labors while other people get told what to do • using the proverbial carrots and sticks • as though they were cogs in a wheel or mice on a treadmill. Such discrepancies cause the operating system to crash. They fail to take into account the intrinsic motivational value of fulfillment.

    People, in other words, want success on our own terms. We don’t want to be induced and we don’t want to be treated unfairly. We rather want to understand what’s going on, contribute as best we can, rise to challenges as they emerge, and benefit in proportion to our effort and creativity.

Pink spends the rest of his book exploring the ramifications of Motivation 3.0 on the organization of human society and institutions, ranging from business to schools to parenting. If personal satisfaction is the real driver behind human behavior, then what does that mean for how we lead and treat people, how we educate and raise children, and how we get more of what we want in an increasingly crowded world?

I encourage you to read the book if these questions intrigue you. One way to answer those questions, however, is in terms of fairness. As a Guideline for Living, it’s important to treat people fairly. And that doesn’t necessarily mean treating everyone evenly or the same way. It doesn’t mean paying everyone the same hourly rate. It does mean treating everyone as though they have the same universal needs. Survival alone just doesn’t cut it anymore. Even success has its limitations, especially when it’s defined and driven externally. Satisfying the full range of human needs is the key to making things work and getting things done.

What do I mean by needs? Long-time readers of Provisions will remember my series on Life-Giving Needs. Without claiming to be all-inclusive, we looked at five broad spectrums of needs:

  1. Subsistence • Transcendence
  2. Safety • Challenge
  3. Work • Rest
  4. Autonomy • Community
  5. Honesty • Empathy

All ten of these needs must be honored and respected if we hope to treat people fairly and motivate full engagement. Perhaps that’s why so many of those Ten New Commandmentsincorporate such elements into their meaning and measure:

  • Treat others as you would have them treat you.
  • Be honest and fair in one’s interactions.
  • Be neither miserly nor wasteful in one’s expenditure.
  • The right not to be enslaved.
  • Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice.
  • Work together for the benefit of all humankind.

Motivation 2.0 is, in effect, a form of slavery. We are driven to work as though it held no satisfaction other than a paycheck. Motivation 3.0 goes deeper. It doesn’t say there are no dirty jobs. It doesn’t say that everything is pleasant, fun, and stress free. It does say, however, that happiness can always be arranged. That’s because Motivation 3.0 factors into the equation those universal human needs. We may not be able to meet all of our needs all of the time, but when we treat them fairly • when we recognize their value and give them expression • we enrich life and experience vitality.

That is my hope for us all. Let’s give everyone the respect they deserve. Fairness does not demand uniformity; fairness demands serenity: the peace of mind that comes from knowing and meeting our needs. When every human being is extended that opportunity, when we wish for others no more and no less than we wish for ourselves, when we infuse all of life with meaning and purpose, then we will rise to the full measure of our calling.

Coaching Inquiries: How do you understand the notion of fairness? Do people treat you fairly? Do you treat other people fairly? How can you assist people to experience more satisfaction in life and work? Who serves as a role model for you in this regard? How can you experience more satisfaction in your own life and work? What’s stopping you from doing that today?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


Your last Provision on Nurturing Planet Earth helped me a lot in my college assignment. Thank you for the information!


I just discovered your poem on Passion. What an inspiration! Thanks so much for sharing that with the world. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services