People create incentive systems all the time, often without realizing it.
Every interaction evidences incentives: patterns of eye contact, tone of voice, choice of words. In a power-differentiated work setting (like a manager with reports), incentives flow every which way moment by moment, day by day, week by week.
They do so mostly by copying, without thinking about the tradeoffs they are navigating.
Geek Incentives talks about work-based incentive systems like compensation, promotion, job assignment, and other markers of status. There is a Silicon Valley Consensus about formal incentive systems—levels, compensation bands, bi-annual review, functional report structures, bonuses for one-off outstanding performance. Smaller companies copy bigger companies but typically don’t examine the embedded trade offs.
Who is served by the incentives? How are different people served differently? Biased towards short- or long-term? What positive behavior is encouraged? Discouraged? Same for negative behaviors? How much do the incentives matter compared to how much they cost?
This is the heart of Geek Incentives, the thoughtful examination of trade offs for incentives, both as designed and as deployed.
Incentive system decisions made badly have wide-ranging consequences, especially for people with less power.
Juniors being discouraged from behavior that fuels growth. Those entering the system with potential but disadvantages being discouraged from making up the gap. Seniors coasting (rest n’ vest) and not uplifting the next generation. The wrong people transitioning to management (the consequence that keeps having consequences).
It's not rocket surgery to do a better job of creating incentive systems. Improvement starts with awareness & caring.
Incentives are empirical. People are not computers to be programmed. Improvement is a story away and substantial improvement not much further.
It's in everyone's best interest to improve.
Better outcomes for the people experiencing incentives, better outcomes for the companies in which they work, the customers of those companies (not competitors, though, mwahaha), and those creating incentives.