The Art of Demotivation

A Visionary Guide To Transforming Your Company’s Least Valuable Asset: Your Employees

by E.L. Kersten

Number of pages: 242

Publisher: Despair

BBB Library: Leadership, Operations Management

ISBN: 9781892503404

About the Author

E.L. Kersten is the co-founder of Despair, Inc., a publishing and media enterprise dedicated to the dissemination of contrarian wisdom.


Editorial Review

In the early 1960s, Douglas McGregor defined contrasting assumptions about the nature of humans in the workplace. These assumptions are the basis of Theory X and Theory Y teachings. Theory X assumes that people are lazy and will avoid work whenever possible. Theory Y, on the other hand, assumes that people are creative and enjoy work. Theory X holds the belief that people do not like work and that some kind of control must be exerted to get them to work effectively. These people require a rigidly managed environment, adding threats of disciplinary action as a primary source of motivation. It is also held that employees will only respond to monetary rewards as an incentive to perform above the level of that which is expected. In this radical book¾The Art of Demotivation¾a new version of Theory X is adopted to reflect the frustration caused by unproductive staff and the reaction of managers who don’t believe in motivation. It is an old theory, but still finds its advocates in the workplace of the 21st century. The book seems to echo Theory X, and even adds further disciplinary measures and logistics which are called “disconfirmation”, “indifference” and many more. These measures ¾ according to the author¾should be used to give a halt to arrogant employees and spur lazy ones to enforce productivity.  Otherwise they are laid off to mitigate their negative effect on the organization. Whether we agree or disagree with the author, we believe that our readers have the right to read and heed this strange book.

Book Reviews

Lawrence Kersten is no fan of soaring eagles, majestic peaks, or other icons of the motivational industry. He is tired of bric-a-brac exalting “Leadership!” “Ambition!” “Success!” And he’s skeptical of such popular motivational programs asFish!,a management philosophy that initiates corporations into the secrets of counterintuitively peppy fishmongers in Seattle. So Kersten, a former professor of organizational communication, decided to beat up on the upbeat. "In 1998, Kersten, along with Justin and Jef Sewell, founded Despair Inc., an Austin, Texas, marketer of “demotivational products” that promise to “unleash the power of mediocrity.” The company’s offerings include posters that trumpet such antivalues as “Arrogance” and “Irresponsibility” and note cards that proclaim “Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.” Although Despair Inc. is a real business, it is also a spot-on satire of the kind of walkless talk that characterizes too many corporate morale-building programs." Harvard Business Review

"In this revolutionary new management book, Despair, Inc. founder Dr. E.L. Kersten plumbs the depths of employee discontent and identifies its root cause. Though most employees live lackluster lives full of wasted opportunities and trivial accomplishments, they grow ever more certain of their enormous worth and glorious destinies. This is because they are the products of a narcissistic age, the results of a grand social experiment that has gone terribly awry. As a result, they are afflicted with an irrational sense of entitlement that simultaneously increases their dissatisfaction with their jobs and prevents them from accepting responsibility for their lives. Thus, in a terrible irony, managers who attempt to motivate employees by bolstering their self-esteem have only compounded the problem. By reinforcing the delusions of grandeur that imprison and torture the average worker, management has only further reinforced their sense of entitlement to the wealth, stature and privilege that justice dictates be reserved for the truly accomplished and inarguably worthy: namely, executives."

"With The Art of Demotivation, Kersten takes aim at books such as Who Moved My Cheese? An A-Mazing Way to Deal With Change and Win! (Putnam, 1998) and Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results (Hyperion, 2000). He doesn't parody them, perhaps because parodying books about mice named Sniff and Scurry and fishmongers named Lonnie seems like the sort of exercise that would be assigned to the Junior Satirists Club at your local high school. Kersten is bent on undermining the multimillion-dollar motivational industry — "Big Boost," one might call it — that every year persuades America's corporate managers to lay out big money to try to get employees to work harder, feel better about their jobs, and have a better damn attitude." Fast Company

"Employees must be put squarely in their place–in Kersten’s world, this falls somewhere between medieval serfdom and indentured servitude. Radically demotivating employees includes such techniques as creative amnesia–"forgetting" employees’ names and contributions; also, managers should respond impersonally to employees, refraining from sharing or engaging in eye contact or emotional displays. Kersten even advocates physical "cleansing" after employee contact–make sure to apply antibacterial liquid after an employee handshake."KIRKUS REVIEW

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Wisdom to Share

Employees are the root of the problem why companies can go sour. Executives know this, intuitively, but have been brainwashed over the past decades to believe that with enough motivation and expenditure, their employees will be the productive beings that they were meant to be, when, in fact, they are the reasons of failure.

Employees lack maturity: Childlike behavior is vivid in corporations with such behavior as blaming one another, doing things they know will not work, avoiding effort and confusing together the terms “activity” and “productivity”.

Employees exploit their employer’s generosity: while executives often use incentive plans to get their employees to do what they are originally hired for, employees, frequently engage in fraud and deception to exploit these plans and programs.

There seems to be many benefits for applying Radical Demotivation. When the employee feels powerless, they will definitely be satisfied with less.

For the demotivation process to work out, executives must start out with a set of core values to be genuinely lived out. The less power an employee has, the more they will be required to execute on the company’s core values.

Stories reveal a victim—the employee, and the exploiter—the executive and/or the company. In RD storytelling, the idea is to reverse these roles, portraying the employee as the exploiter and the executive as the victim.

Never share personal information with employees. Every time you do this, you venture into an unwanted territory of having an employee “connecting” to you or feeling similar to you.