Monthly Archives: October 2009

On the fallacy of 110 percent.

Here is my line of thinking, and it’s something that I have been thinking about for quite some time: There is no such thing as greater than 100 percent in reference to the human condition. Each person can only give as much as they are capable. To think that a person can safely push himself past his limits is an erroneous and ultimately dangerous idea.

In motivating people, I have never seen fit to tell them to “give 110 percent.” When someone says this to me, I just smile and think to myself, “Then I am not giving 100 percent, and I need to work harder.” I have found that the best way to obtain high output from reluctant people is to never tell them anything about 110 percent; instead, they must be confronted with their weaknesses.

Perhaps the best demonstration of this would be in an office setting. The owner of an advertising firm walks up to a lower-level employee and does not, as would be expected, begin to spout off contemporary jargon: “Step outside of the box,” “Shift the paradigm,” “Make it happen,” and ultimately, “Give 110 percent.” Instead, the guru should impress his wisdom upon the one who is learning: tell the student where his error was made, how this impacts the team and how it can be fixed.

To tell someone they need to give 110 percent insinuates their job until now has been performed at the highest function they know, and it is their job to push past those limits to achieve greater things. This is not true. In order for the discussion to be initiated in the first place, it is to be assumed that the employee (or student, or family member) has not been living up to expectations. Since this is the case, shouldn’t the discussion center around what the person can do to truly work harder?

I have seen this happen firsthand: a manager tells an employee she needs to give more, spend more time interacting with customers, sell more products and bring in more money. I have witnessed the managers who tell every employee that the fate of company rests in their hands. I have overheard the conversations where a manager tells an employee that the employee loses money everyday, not just for himself but for the company as a whole.

This is always followed by, “But you can make us more money, if you just give 110 percent.”

Within each person lies the capability to achieve great things; when and how we choose to release this potential is entirely up to us. To give 110 percent is not possible. The person merely chooses to open up the reserves and unleash their abilities.

The danger in making someone believe they can safely push past their limits for great spans of time is well-documented in today’s society.

French phone company France Telecom has recently been plagued by a wave of suicides — more than 20 in under two years — after demanding that their employees learn new, difficult technology so the company can better compete and stay relevant. The latest, a 51-year-old man who jumped to his death from a bridge, was recently moved from a low-stress job dealing with established clients to a high-stress position in a cold call center. In his suicide note, he blamed the “atmosphere at work.”

A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health in 2004 found that work-related anxiety can also lead to higher instances of cardiovascular problems. The United States is seeing greater numbers of these instances than ever before.

Stress has been clinically shown to increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. When people experience stress, they are more likely to smoke, overeat, ignore exercise and experience a jump in blood pressure; all of these factors contribute to heart disease.

I’m going to finish this later because it is making my brain function past its acceptable point of exertion.