Too much stick, not enough carrot

Many people use the carrot and stick analogy.  I did too until I recently had an unnerving discussion about what it actually meant.  I thought one thing and my friend thought another.  However, we both had imaginary donkeys that we wanted to move.  I always thought that this saying referred to someone sitting on the back of a donkey holding a long pole with a carrot suspended from it.  To be clear, the person holds the pole, not the donkey.  The donkey can see the carrot and walks forwards, trying to reach it and eat it.  Sort of perpetual motion that relies on the donkey liking carrot a lot and not being too bright (I’m not sure the dopey bit is part of the analogy though).  However, my friend assumed there was a donkey and someone (who may or may not be sitting on the donkey) who would both hit the donkey with the stick (punishment) or feed it carrots (reward) to make it move.  I think my way is nicer as you don’t have to hit the donkey, but then with my approach it never gets to eat either (no punishment or reward).  Also mine involves string, to dangle the carrot, which could complicate matters as you could have too much string too.  Anyway, they are pretty different, aren’t they?  This is particularly worrying given it’s an analogy and therefore used to discuss something else entirely.

That aside, to make either work there must be an optimum carrot:stick ratio.  In my analogy the carrot has to be sufficiently big to tempt said donkey and the stick sufficiently long such that said donkey can see/smell it, but can’t eat it.  In the other scenario it is less clear exactly what this ideal carrot:stick ratio would be, but presumably you keep the donkey happy, but knowing their donkey place (ie moving).

Now to the too much stick and not enough carrot bit (in which the ratio is upset, and then leaves).  For me this means some silly person on the back of the donkey with a very long pole with a very small carrot on it.  The donkey is unlikely to go too far and someone is likely to practice their pole vaulting technique.  For my friend, you have a hungry donkey with a sore bottom.

They are donkeys in very different situations, and neither seems likely to be moving.  So could the real (imaginary) donkey please step forward?

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