Are you motivated?

Yesterday I mentioned Daniel Pink’s freakin’ awesome book, Drive. In there he discusses the two types of motivation that we are all familiar with, as well as one more that you probably knew you had, but didn’t know it had a name.

This third motivation is important, because in numerous studies (and probably in your own life) it’s been shown that this third motivation can be derailed by external factors.

To get on the same page, the first motivation is intrinsic motivation. This is where you are motivated by survival instincts. Eating, sleeping, and other obvious self-sustaining actions fall into this category. The second is extrinsic motivation, which is succinctly described as the stick and carrot motivation. You know, you work for money, and you don’t kill idiots to avoid prison. You knew this.

This “new” third motivation is similar to what was described in The Upside of Irrationality. It’s where we are motivated to do the right thing, or to do what we enjoy just to do it. What is important about this is how the stick and carrot stuff can jack up our own self improvement efforts. Not to mention just plain sucking the joy out of life.

In one example, they looked at paintings from artists, and split them up into two categories. One for items they were commissioned (paid) to do, and the other for items they did because they wanted to. Having experts rate these works, without any info on the origin or the motivation, the paid work consistently came in behind the creative work.

Another group of experiments discussed in both books showed how overpaying someone can actually have an adverse effect. The important take-away here was that this was in what the author called heuristic work. Which, much like reading the word “heuristic”, means that it takes your brain to come up with a solution. This is in contrast with what was termed algorithmic work, which means repetitive work that you can do without needing to solve problems or be creative. In those cases better pay usually resulted in better results.

Get to the point? Okay. The author (and his sources) suggest that our conventional methods of rewarding people for creative work is actually self defeating in the long run. They like to point to those high bonuses for executives as an example. When they put it that way, it’s almost too obvious.

However, some of the information says what you would expect – that these motivators can work in the short term. But the research shows that after the short term gain, the results don’t simply drop back to the baseline, but actually decrease further than if there had been no increased incentive at all.

The trick: Find out how to tap into that existing third motivation to get things done. If that sounds easy, good for you! For the rest of us, in a future post I’ll discuss ideas on how to do just that. If you want to do more research yourself, you should definitely pick up Drive. It’s quickly turning into one of the better books I’ve read this year…

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