Know you want to achieve great things, but just can’t summon the will?
Manage a high-potential team at work, but unable to light a fire beneath them?
If you’re struggling with how to motivate yourself and others, the Drive summary, based on a book by Daniel Pink, may be useful.
Covering the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, it shows why often companies fail to motivate their employees and why we’re unable to initiate change in our personal lives.
Motivation 1.0 and 2.0
Throughout history, humans have mostly been concerned with survival and meeting their basic needs…
Eating enough food, finding warmth and shelter and reproducing.
The impetus behind these actions? Motivation 1.0.
Recently, however, industrialisation ate the world.
Human actions became ever more divorced from their primary 1.0 goals and a new force for improving production cycles was invented…
Motivation 2.0 – reward and punishment overseen by a third party.
Reward was seen to reinforce desired behaviours and vice versa for punishment.
- Higher wages – improved performance
- Dismissal – prevent poor performance
Employers that use Motivation 2.0, which is so widespread as to have become the norm, believe that unless they use the carrot and stick approach, employees have no motivation or incentive to fulfil their duties.
Therefore, they require close management supervision.
There is another, more effective method of motivation, unreliant on basic needs or the carrot and stick.
Until 1949, animals were assumed to be motivated by only inner drives and external motivations.
That is until Harry Harlowe discovered that Rhesus monkeys, when given a puzzle, solved it with delight, with no promise of reward.
The same can be seen in human endeavours.
Think of Wikipedia vs Microsoft Encarta. One of was produced by a team of highly paid professionals, while the other was created by willing volunteers.
The ultimate success of open-source projects like Wikipedia show that humans are no different from their puzzle-solving primate counterparts.
We have an inner drive encouraging positive action: Motivation 3.0.
When we find joy in the action for its own sake, we’re being driven by Motivation 3.0.
Intrinsically motivated people want to be able to:
- Decide what they work on
- When they work
- Their responsibilities
Carrot and stick consequences
Carrot and stick approaches can actually harm performance:
- Can cause ethical issues – mechanics who are rewarded based on the number of repairs often find needless fixes, damaging customer relations and the company reputation.
- Can increase pressure – a study in India in which participants were tasked with hitting a target with a tennis ball, showed that financial rewards increased the pressure on a successful outcome, impairing their performance.
- Reduces creativity – other experiments have shown that external rewards can reduce our resourcefulness and critical thinking skills, blinkering creative solutions when problem-solving.
Although the carrot and stick approach may be effective for manual production tasks like supermarket bag-packing, it can often backfire in creative or complex tasks.
Eradicating intrinsic motivation
Using extrinsic motivation isn’t just ineffective. It’s even more harmful in that it destroys our intrinsic motivation.
As children, we’re incredibly curious about the world, trying hobbies, learning skills and engaging in projects for their own sake.
However, this curiosity is slowly lost as we encounter the ‘real world’, which is driven by extrinsic motivation.
In one experiment, children were separated into two groups and asked to draw. One group was given a certificate and the other was not.
The children were then asked to draw again. The group who’d received the certificate didn’t want to draw while the other group did.
The certificate group, who’d been taught to draw only for the extrinsic reward, had lost their intrinsic motivation.
In an adult world where we’re surrounded by such if-then reward mechanisms, intrinsic motivation and natural dedication slowly dissolve.
50% of employees in the USA report feeling uncommitted to their work.
Why? Because they aren’t positively challenged or given the opportunity for personal and professional development.
- Pursue their tasks with concentration and passion
- Forget the world around them
- Lose themselves in the work
That’s to say – they tap into the powerful phenomenon known as ‘flow’.
The flow state:
- Occurs episodically
- Is intrinsically linked to the drive for perfection (which is always a work in progress, initiating new flow states)
- Encouraged by small successes
- Is contingent on the belief in continuous improvement
While fixed mindset individuals are difficult to motivate, growth orientated individuals are not.
If employees are given tasks requiring constant improvement, motivation, passion and dedication ensue.
The pursuit of meaning
Psychologists studied undergraduates at the University of Rochester and asked about their main aim in life.
Some listed extrinsic goals like gaining prestige and making money while others were driven by intrinsic ideals like personal development or helping others.
Years later, the researchers followed up with the participants. Despite often achieving material success, the extrinsically motivated participants were no happier.
In fact, they suffered from more depression and anxiety than their intrinsically motivated counterparts, who found much greater meaning in their pursuit.
Striving for personal growth and societal change in this way is a far healthier endeavour, with many of us undertaking unpaid or voluntary activities.
Indeed, employee welfare has even been shown to improve where a portion of company profits are donated to charitable causes.
The pursuit of meaning is more motivating than money can ever be.
Self determination is intertwined with intrinsic motivation and performance.
Rather than scrupulously monitoring employees, companies which give their staff freedom, experience improved results.
- This could be allowing employees to set their own working hours
- Or in the case of Google, giving employees 20% of their time to work on their own projects (spawning hits such as Google News and Google Mail)
- Or in the case of Zappos, allowing their call centre staff to work from home and lead conversations in a natural way, thereby reducing the staff turnover and improving customer service [Note: I’ve personally had to work in a call centre-esque environment and was made to follow rigid working guidelines, including call monitoring and script-following. It was, unsurprisingly, soul destroying]
Team composition and autonomy also has a huge bearing on motivation:
- In Whole Foods, both workers and managers decide on new hires
- In W.L Gore and Partner, those aspiring to management have to find employees willing to join their team
[This also reminds me of a section in the book, ‘Turn the Ship Around‘, where a nuclear submarine captain transformed the vessel from worst performing to best performing in the fleet, partly by allowing smaller teams the autonomy to decide on their time off]
Greater self determination encourages:
- More potential for achievement
- Greater job contentment
- Less potential for burnout
Most businesses don’t take advantage of motivation 3.0, despite evidence of increased employee engagement and commitment.
They still rely on the carrot and stick, encouraging underperformance.
So, how can companies embrace this new way of working?
- Intrinsic motivation in a creative workforce can be encouraged through small measures like spontaneous praise or constructive feedback, which focus on the joy of the work
- Give workers increased decision-making responsibilities
- Show them their contribution to the company matters, instilling a sense of meaning in their actions
- Encourage workers to aim for perfection by stretching them just enough to be challenged, but not overextended in terms of ability
- Create social involvement around employee action, showing that they are working on a cause greater than themselves (donations/positive impact etc.)
- Reward and punishment results in short-lived improvement
- Long term, it’s a harmful approach, destroying our intrinsic motivation
- Focus instead on self-determination, encouraging employees to aim for perfection and promoting the pursuit of meaning
- Check out the video below, where Pink discusses the book:
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