We get motivated by many things... fear, love, sex, greed. But something always drives our decisions and spurs us to action. In acting, we have some goal in mind. Generally speaking, our actions have some purpose at heart.
We also, generally speaking, put in the least amount of effort required for the actions that we take to achieve our goals. I once knew someone who planned to take a poster to work that said, "I give 100% at the office: 10% on Monday, 20% on Tuesday, etc..." If pressed, we can always think of ways that we could have given more and tried harder.
So when do we truly rise up and give 110%? When someone else is vying for the very goal that we have in mind. If I'm jockeying for a promotion, for example, and someone else is as well, I will shine - above and beyond what I normally do - to win that promotion. I double and re-double my effort. When I do this, I sometimes surprise myself by doing things that I didn't know that I could.
In short, I better myself.
That's the beauty of athletics. It teaches a person how to reach down and grab untapped resolve to sustain the effort needed to win. But if it weren't for the competition at hand, it would be as casual as Sunday afternoon touch football with the family. Not quite the same fervor.
It's also the beauty of capitalism. Each would-be business has to vie for the affections of the market by beating the competition in price, selection, and service. Competition drives efficiency into every business, or the business does not sustain itself. Sure, there are fly-by-night operations that make a quick buck, but like Worldcom, the truth is eventually known and the business withers.
It's for this reason that it is an unreasonable expectation for anyone to believe that government is a suitable answer in any crisis. Government has no competition. Efficiency will never be driven into government by Darwinian market selection. We're kidding ourselves to believe that government can be efficient. They have no reason to be efficient - no entity will replace government if government fails. Government will persist, in spite of itself.
I haven't been shy about commenting on the questionable decisions of government officials throughout the events brought on by Katrina. But elected officials are never elected because we see them as wonderful managers. Quite the contrary. We elect them because we buy into their showmanship. We purchase the facade of the man or woman in electing our representatives. A truly talented manager well-suited for the many tasks of governing is not the same as finding a person who best represents our beliefs. And unfortunately, that's usually the criteria for electing someone. We're concerned that they believe in our views on abortion. We want them to view society as we do. But such things have no basis on their ability to withstand and persevere in a crisis. Or to manage a budget. Or to encourage the best traits in those who work with them to run government.
Government can't be efficient, not only because it has no competition, but because its leaders typically aren't gifted in leadership - only showmanship and electability.
And so we stand aghast at the spectacle of New Orleans and Mississippi and wonder why. And so commissions will be brought to bear. In part, to try and resolve better practices, and in part because it's politically opportunistic to do so. But it's a facade that is only as strong as the leaders elected to carry out such best practices.
Peter Drucker once said that efficiency is "doing the right things right." In business, that will happen because otherwise the business will fail. In sports, that will happen or the team will lose. But it will never happen in government because its survival is never in jeopardy. There is no true threat to its existence.
ETC: One other thing - this is also the reason that unions are so bad for America. It's next to impossible to fire someone in government, no matter how inefficient they are. Unions kill competitiveness in the workplace. Merit is moot, and tenure is everything.