Mosquito Fish

On the last day of school, my youngest son, Noah, got off the bus with a huge grin on his face.  I thought he was happy since fourth grade had finally ended and he could enjoy the summer months homework free.  However, much to my surprise, his beautiful smile was due to the fact that his science teacher had encouraged him to take three Mosquito fish home.  Every elementary science teacher can attest to this end-of-school-year dilemma…the experiments during the year were great, but what does one do with the remaining animals?  And, as you can imagine, my gullible son decided he was going to be the caretaker of those Mosquito fish.

So, off we went to the pet store to buy a small fish tank, blue colored rocks (his favorite color), some “fake” fish tank trees, and a few other gadgets the pet store owner insisted we purchase.  Forty dollars later, with purchases and my exceptionally-happy son in tow, we headed home.  Noah was highly motivated to begin assembling his new “project.”

The above experience may be likened to the workplace where, typically, an employee receives a “project” and starts the endeavor highly motivated.  There are high expectations for the project’s performance and results.  Yet, far too often, the desirable outcome is never achieved. How does an employee’s motivation plummet from high to low?  What causes the decline in motivation?  Can the motivation reverse back to a high state?  Managers around the globe pose these questions on a daily basis.

If I examine my son’s performance it would resemble this equation:

High Motivation + Open-Ended Period of Time = Abandonment

Noah fed the Mosquito fish and cleaned the fish tank consistently for the first three months.  For the next six months, it was like pulling teeth to get him to even feed the poor fish.  After nine months, he had totally abandoned those Mosquito fish and left the grunt work in the hands of his parents.  What drove Noah to the point of abandonment?  My theory:  Ultimately, he knew someone else would pick up the pieces to continue the project, and that’s exactly what happened!

Reflection Questions

  • As a manager, who among your employees is showing signs of project abandonment?
  • If project abandonment is unintended, who will pick up the pieces?
  • Is there one or more projects where purposeful project abandonment – a Peter Drucker concept – should take place?

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