Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Intrinsic Motivation

When we want people to do something for us, we often use extrinsic motivators. We offer rewards or punishment, carrot or stick. Sometimes we use coercion. The trouble with extrinsic motivation is that it leads to poorer results. If you're doing something out of duty, guilt, to avoid penalty or to seek reward then you're not doing it because you actually want to.

The alternative is intrinsic motivation and it's incredibly powerful. I recently joined a debate on whether the recent rise in VAT was justified. Not normally something I would have been interested in, but because the posts had started discussing libertarian philosophy I got involved. Pretty soon I was arguing against the existence of a social contract, reading up on 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes and researching German politics around the time of World War 1 (The Act of Enablement which validated to Hitler's dictatorship would be legitimised by the existence of a social contract). What? History? Normally I can't stand the stuff. Yet because the motivation was intrinsic (it came from within), I couldn't get enough.

So one of the ingredients for intrinsic motivation is purpose (In the above example p'owning the guy who thinks because I was born I consent to be governed). Another is autonomy - the minute you start telling people how to do things to a degree beneath their perceived level of expertise, motivation will suffer. The final ingredient is mastery. People do things because they like getting better at them. I stopped enjoying playing the piano when I stopped improving. My friend Ron Ballard stopped playing the saxophone for the same reason.

The best way I've found to achieve this in business is to hire people who enjoy what they do (they'll be doing it outside work too), then let them run. You still need to pay them however!

For further reading see here and here.

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