Stick or Carrot? Which would you choose?
March 01, 2015

I let you in on my first hand experience at KIPP Austin in my last blog.  The experiences like this has got me thinking more about the carrot and stick approach to building up motivation to people’s life and their  in general. How people are motivated seems to be one that evolves over time and experience. Whether we admit it or not, we learn and adapt all our lives, more so earlier in our lives than later perhaps, but all the way through nevertheless.

The carrot: praises, rewards, recognition, ……

The Stick: punishment, time outs, scolding, warnings, ….

Well, when you are a parent, your senses seem to work differently perhaps, but I have noticed many things and thought through minute details which I probably would not give a second thought otherwise.

For example, who doesn’t like junk food: cookies, chips, chocolates, ice creams, juice? Yumm!

My daughter suddenly started fancying all these and while we tried to moderate her intake, those eyes made me gave in more often than not.

When I was liberal, it nature held up the stick for her, making it harder for her to go, a feeling she hated and after the tears shed, she made the association between her increased intake of junk food with constipation  and she moderated her intake herself.  The carrot was her smile after her normal bowels.

We can’t let her figure everything out for herself though or can we?  How about children’s tendency to poke their hands where they shouldn’t, like those alluring electrical outlets? And what about their adrenaline rush when they come out in the parking lot and start running?

The cartoon characters don’t make getting the warnings across easier either. She has seen the cartoon characters getting shocks and getting run over but those same cartoon characters come back episodes after episodes? The message of invincibility is more powerful than the warnings in many instances.

Did I just digress? Well, …

And, what about the carrot and stick approach for us adults? It seems we have developed an ability to work through problems.  In fact we proudly call ourselves problem-solvers. The critiques, the warnings, many a times help us refocus and achieve greater heights.  In fact, we do say that failures make us stronger and criticisms make us better.  But are constant “sticks” the answer to getting on top of things?  If so, why would research on top of research talk about the importance of positive feedback, building on successes, and perks for high performers?

Is there a definable boundary that can guide us in managing situations where employing one or the other would yield better results?

Are carrots only approach better in some situations and sticks only in another?  Or carrots and sticks have to enter the management equation in some fixed proportion? Is thee a secret formula?  Well now that I have shared my feeling, may be I will research more and perhaps you can help me in getting to the bottom of this.

More to ponder about and more to find out.

So let’s keep investigating!


P.S.  Please leave comments and let me know what do you think.  You can also send an email at


About Sudiksha Joshi

A Learning Advocate and Founder of, I am on a mission to give ourselves to think bigger and bolder to forge our way forward and change the world.