The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Motivation, motivation, motivation: We all want it. Motivation is a big deal when it comes to achieving success, whether it’s at work or in our personal lives. The traditional way to motivate people is through rewards or punishments. However, is it really the best way? A more nuanced approach to motivation might be needed for long-term success.

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from external factors like rewards, punishments, or recognition. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual and is driven by personal interest, curiosity, or satisfaction in the activity itself. While extrinsic motivation can get people started on a task, intrinsic motivation is often more powerful in achieving success.

A study was conducted by Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett, which aimed to investigate the impact of reward on intrinsic motivation. The study involved children who enjoyed drawing and were randomly divided into three groups: a reward, non-reward, and control group. The reward group was promised a certificate for drawing, while the non-reward group was not promised anything. The control group did not draw. The children were observed while they drew, and the number of drawings was recorded. After the initial drawing session, the researchers conducted an observation session to determine if the reward influenced the children’s continued interest in drawing. The findings showed that the reward group produced more drawings than the non-reward group and the control group during the initial drawing session. However, in the subsequent observation session, the reward group produced fewer drawings compared to the non-reward group. This indicated that the promise of a reward could initially increase extrinsic motivation, but negatively impact intrinsic motivation, leading to a decreased long-term interest in the activity. This study demonstrates that the conventional “carrot and stick” approach to motivation is based on a flawed understanding of human nature and that it often fails to consider the complex motivations that drive human behaviour.

It is believed that there are three key factors that play a role in driving intrinsic motivation: Autonomy, Purpose and Mastery.

Autonomy is the first significant factor in driving intrinsic motivation. People have an innate desire for self-direction and control over their work. When individuals have more autonomy, they become more engaged, creative, and productive. Google’s “20% time” policy is a great example of how autonomy can foster intrinsic motivation in the workplace. This policy allows employees to spend 20% of their workweek on personal projects that align with the company’s goals. By giving employees the freedom to pursue their ideas and interests, Google has created an environment that promotes creativity, innovation, and self-direction. This policy has led to some of Google’s most successful products, including Gmail and Google News, which were developed during employees’ 20% time. By allowing employees to work on projects they are passionate about, Google has harnessed the power of intrinsic motivation and created a culture of experimentation and continuous learning. Providing individuals with more autonomy can help to unleash their full potential and lead to greater success and satisfaction in their work and lives.

Purpose is also an essential component of intrinsic motivation. People want to connect with something larger than themselves and make a meaningful contribution to the world. When individuals feel that their work has a larger purpose, they become more engaged, committed, and driven to succeed. This can be seen in a variety of fields, from healthcare workers who see their work as a way to improve people’s lives, to entrepreneurs who are driven by a desire to create something new and valuable. Furthermore, companies that have a clear sense of purpose are more likely to attract and retain talented employees, and they are more likely to succeed in the long run. Providing individuals with a sense of purpose and meaning in their work can help to unleash their full potential and lead to greater success and fulfilment.

Mastery is another critical component of intrinsic motivation. Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters: the pursuit of mastery is a fundamental human drive. It has been shown that people are motivated by the challenge of improving their skills and knowledge, and that the process of mastery can be incredibly rewarding. For example, Apple’s pursuit of mastery has been a key factor in the company’s success and the increase of intrinsic motivation among its employees. The company has a reputation for being obsessive about design, attention to detail, and creating products that are easy to use and visually stunning. This emphasis on excellence has led to a culture of innovation, where employees are encouraged to take risks and think creatively to achieve their goals. The pursuit of mastery has also helped establish Apple as a leading innovator in the technology industry, creating a sense of pride and motivation among employees who are dedicated to achieving the highest standards of quality and excellence. Mastery can lead to a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfilment, as individuals are able to see their progress and growth over time. Ideally companies and schools should focus more on the development of mastery-oriented environments, where individuals are encouraged to take on new challenges and develop their skills. Mastery is an essential part of human motivation, and individuals who can pursue mastery in their work and lives are more likely to experience fulfilment and success.

So, the question is, what role can we play in creating environments that foster intrinsic motivation? You may notice things on a day-to-day basis that encourage extrinsic motivation and the “carrot and stick” approach. What steps can we personally take to encourage autonomy, purpose, and mastery in our own lives, as well as in our workplace and school? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are certainly worth exploring.

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