Dear members:

Thanks for responding to my earlier note! I have received a total of 15 responses, of which two were auto-replies. I can get back to each of the 13 members, but there are things I want to share with the entire community, with the goal to stir up more discussions on the topic.

All messages were positive except one reminding me that if I do not speak Thai, I’ll never find the cause because Thais, just like Chinese, treat foreigners who can speak Thai differently from those who cannot. I’d have to say I am not completely sold on it. In fact, most Thais I met, including those with low income, have treated me nicely and honestly despite I know no more than 20 Thai words. This actually has much to do with my willingness to give the lady 1,900THB (roughly USD60, not USD600, sorry for the typo and thank Lily for pointing it out) in the first place – I thought she was just one of the other Thais. However, this message raises an important question: what is the cultural difference in treating tourists who do not speak the language, who are ill-informed with little chance to revenge for mistreatment? My own observation says prejudice and discrimination are everywhere, although the Asian version tends to focus on price discrimination more than that in the west. Anyway, I thank Keatkhamjorn for raising this important point.

Another member suggest me to introduce myself first: who I am, affiliation and rank… I thank Angelo for that. Reading back my own message I find it kind of rude to invite partners without saying a word about myself. I’ll be short on “facts” and a bit longer on “dreams” because I believe dreams define a person better than demographics or even experiences. You don’t have to take my words for it, just read The essential message: “(T)he most innovative and happy workers feel like they have autonomy and a strong sense of mission.”

Here it comes: I have a MS in plant genetics and a Ph.D. in sociology from Madison, Wisconsin, and currently a research faculty at the Thammasat Business School in Bangkok, Thailand. I have three academic “dreams” or self-imposed missions: (a) to change the way we study culture by redefining it as accumulated choices to cover accumulated preferences (e.g., motivations), institutions and wealth, (b) to change the way we do causal modeling by leveraging early life choices (from pregnancy to teenage) that are more exogenous than other things and (c) to push for truly multidisciplinary research, similar to behavioral economics but include entire camps of economists and culturists. The other dream is about business teaching, although I won’t bother you with that here.

Now, back to motivations, one member asked me to provide further readings on the topic. I may not have the latest because I live far away from the campus and have lost my EBSCO HOST connection for more than a month. However, I know for sure that I am by no means the first working on motivations. Max Weber’s thesis of capitalist spirits essentially argues that modernization started from shifting minds from a better “next life” to honors associated with materialistic possessions in this worldliness. Psychologists have long worked on the “need for achievements” N-Ach (McClelland, 1961) that has spawned, among others, the achievement motivation index (Granato, Inglehart, & Leblang, 1996) for economic growth. Of course, there are differences. For example, N-Ach is individualist: it starts and ends in individuals while I am more interested in the co-endogeneity between individuals and collectivities, especially on how national wealth impacts individual’s desire for achievement and how collective motivation in turn impacts national developments. Furthermore, “achievement” is vague and covers different goals – instinct or cause related – as long as it is something difficult and significant. Therefore, N-Ach is more about strength than about types of motivation. Having said that, strength is important and my duo concepts of Instinct Preference (IP) and Cause Preference (CP) do care about that. Further, different cultures care about different motivations with different strengths. Chinese these days have an exceptionally strong IP in the form of what I call "family exceptionalism" that drives 250 million (not 120 million as I said last time, sorry!) migrant workers in 2012 to leave homes for physically challenging jobs in far away places.

One member mentioned Abraham Maslow’s hierachy of needs. Unlike N-Ach, Maslow did focus on motivation types but like N-Ach, it is mainly about how individual updates personal goals and little about how one deals with others, how collective preferences shape up individual needs and how the needs change with growth of wealth/income. The hierarchy makes an excellent “teaching piece” but reality is messier than the five clear-cut layers. We can argue for example that “self esteem” and “confidence” in the “esteem” ladder lay the foundation for good interpersonal relationships in the “love /belonging” layer, not the reversed order as Maslow put it. Cross culture scholars are also more interested in how different cultures – as well as different development stages – drive different needs, not to be limited to a universally constant hierarchy. Chinese, for example, care about earning face (or respect by others) more seriously than other nationalities.

In short, my IP/CP duo concepts have considered three dimensions – beneficiaries (self vs others), time horizon (now or in the future) and payoff types (tangible or internal), while maintaining more flexibility than Maslow's hierarchical structure.

Having a good conceptualization is a good start, the next key is to subject the theory to rigorous tests. Several members asked how exactly I wanted to do the research. I will work out details with the partners (all partners are equal) so I will be sketchy here. Basically, motivation is part of culture or what Williamson (2000) calls “informal institutions” as Anisul pointed out. My theory defines culture as accumulated choices so any motivation models should include institutional factor, because going from abstract (e.g., values) to abstract (e.g., motivations) won’t move us too far ahead. To cite real life examples, I have left a Sony digital camera and a HTC smartphone behind in two cabs but there is no way I can chase them back because no cabs in Bangkok print cash receipts at the end of trips. This says institutions (rules, regulations) matter like the new institutional economics (NIE) has claimed, see Douglas North (1991).

It is however not enough to be limited to formal institutions. Many if not most economists stop short of introducing informal institutions (i.e., norms, habits, customs and hidden rules) into their models. If you are familiar with ANOVA terminology, then economics models are typically “one way ANOVA” focusing on institutional main effects; I intend to do full or fractional "factorial ANOVA." This is because in reality formal and informal institutions interact, which means that same formal institutional environments can lead to different outcomes, depending on informal institutions. China’s insecure or ambiguous property rights for example have not deterred the mainlanders from actively pursuing personal gains. In fact, some Chinese have taken advantage of that to get rich first instead of waiting in the wings until the dust settles.

My biggest point of separation is to establish causal links with early life choices. The idea is simple: previous theories are descriptive, saying little about why humans have those particular needs or motivations. I want to dig into the gold mine of “quasi-exogeneity” in early life choices (ELC). I say quasi-exogeneity because later life choices are impacted by ELC but not the other way around; yet endogeneity is always there as individual’s ELC is affected by collective choices, while each generation’s ELC is impacted by earlier ones. 

I'll stop here but as always, thanks for listening and welcome feedback anyway you see fit but do please focus on the scholarly issues and not on the little incident in Koh Chang. 



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