Ask a research scientist what caused him or her to choose their profession and most will describe a laboratory or intellectual experience that turned them on. It probably was not just a WOW demonstration executed by skillful instructor, and it was probably not an assigned laboratory experiment that work flawlessly the first time. More likely, it was something more personal, like solving a multicomponent unknown in a qualitative analysis, or obtaining a hard earned compound after a lengthy multistep synthesis, or finding that the times for the iodine clock reactions, when put in the correct equation provide constant values for the rate constant of the reaction.

Frustration/Reward Versus Effort Profile

These experience have a common pattern, a pattern that initially involves a period of intense frustration driven by a goal that is difficult to achieve or a problem that is difficult to solve. The frustration is eventually relieved as the problem was solved and the goal met. There then follows a delightful feeling of accomplishment, self-satisfaction, self-confidence and joy. The accomplishment may lead to enhanced understanding of a chemical or physical phenomena, which in turn may stimulate creative processes that lead to new concepts, to new opportunities and yet other challenges. Intensity of the highs achieved by such accomplishment is dependent on the amount of frustration endured and therefore on the magnitude of the challenge undertaken. Individuals experiencing this pattern are motivated to repeat it, accepting greater and greater challenges as their experience, interests, and confidence grow. In the end, they become problem generating, problem-solving junkies. This experience is shown in Curve B of the “Frustration/Reward Versus Effort Profile” figure.

These examples were shared because it is been found to be important that new employees encounter insurmountable substantial challenges during their research training. The challenge must not be overwhelming (at least not at first) and lead down Curve C of the “Frustration/Reward Versus Effort Profile” figure. In such a case little learning, and the possibility of giving up on the new job, is a possible outcome. So the new employee must understand at the onset that there will be a substantial period of frustration during the project, yet some likelihood of success at the end.

Likewise a profile marked Curve A in the figure, one that represents a project that is totally successful isn’t the best first experience, even though it might appear at first to be the most desirable of the three. Certainly it would be preferred by a results-oriented manager, and new employee would object to a trouble-free project. However, this path fails to provide a frustration-effort-reward experience. It does not provide an opportunity for the new employee to learn how to cope with the frustration that accompanies most research and innovation, or how to seek creative solutions to problems.

To the extent possible, it is important for new employees and those employees switch into innovation organizations to be assigned to first projects that have the best chance of a Curve B pathway. Again to the extent possible, a new employee may have several Curve B experiences during the first years in a research / innovation organization. It is helpful if these are graded in intensity so that self-confidence and an ability to deal with frustration will develop gradually.