There is a great TED talk by Dan Pink called The Puzzle of Motivation. To sum up what I took away: The drive to do something because we want to, because it’s interesting or it serves a higher purpose, far outweighs the drive to do something because we’ll be paid for it. (Watching this talk, I also learned an acronym for the workplace of my dreams: ROWE—results-only work environment, but that can wait for another day!)
In his talk, Pink introduces the disconnect between what science knows (production and morale are higher when employees enjoy more intrinsic rewards than when they’re offered extrinsic ones such as higher pay or fear of receiving a review of poor performance) and what the business does (worry less about increasing employee engagement/intrinsic rewards and more about trying extrinsic rewards to coerce workers into producing more). He goes on to explain how the invention of management worked great in the 20th century when compliance was needed to manufacture goods but that in our new age of ideas, self-direction is much more effective for keeping people engaged in their work.
What about motivation for the areas of our lives outside of our jobs? I started thinking more about the differences between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation and the advantage of each.
Our behavior when we’re driven by internal rewards: Something inherent in the outcome, which we simply enjoy or see as an opportunity to learn something interesting. Also when we feel we’re participating in something of importance or value. The activity itself is its own reward.
This is when we’re driven by external rewards or to avoid punishment. Competing to win a reward (money, recognition, award, acceptance, etc.) or completing to avoid disappointment, rejection, loss and so on.
What’s interesting and what Pink touches on when he talks about the results of decades of behavioral studies is that extrinsic motivation can actually sour situations where we would already be receiving an intrinsic reward. Essentially, when are rewarded with or offered an extrinsic reward for something we already enjoy doing, our level of enjoyment is lessened. Psychologists call this the overjustification effect. If you’re like me, you’re all too familiar with the situation of something that once felt like play suddenly not being as fun because now it has become work, albeit work with pay or other reward. But it’s not entirely that clear-cut. If the external reward is dependent on us doing something well versus just doing it to get it done, then it’s possible for us to maintain our intrinsic motivation because mastering something, in turn, can be an intrinsic reward. (Pink says intrinsic motivation typically boils down to three areas: autonomy, mastery and purpose.)
My motivation for making things with my hands is pure play. I don't sell my work anymore so anything I create is driven simply by the desire to have fun, to learn more mastery and possibly to be able to inspire others, so I understand completely this type of motivation that comes internally.
Intrinsic rewards tend to come across as better overall, however, extrinsic rewards can be helpful in some situations. They can motivate us to try new things when we might not instinctively want to try them on our own and they can be a source of feedback.
This makes me wonder not only how can I take this information and use it with clients in supporting them and the changes they want to make, but also how we can use this knowledge in achieving our personal goals; in realizing our intentions; in finding satisfying ways to accomplish more of what we want to accomplish. With each desire, maybe we can find creative ways to increase autonomy, mastery and/or purpose so that it feels more as if we’re doing more of what we have to do just for the fun of it.