Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Really Motivates Us?

What motivates you?
Why do people give to charities? Volunteer? Write blogs -- for free?

Why do we do the things we do?

Money? Pride? Love? Sense of accomplishment?
How many of us really love what we do everyday at workplace, at school? How many of us afford to do what we love to do?

For employers, recruiting the right personnel to do their job(and loving it) could improve performance and level of competence. For employees, choose the wrong job and you're buried in quicksand for the rest of your life.

I watched a video by RSAnimate with Daniel Pink as the speaker, which tells the surprising truth about what motivates us. (if your browser is too slow to load the video, fear not, I've already summed it up for you =P otherwise you can choose to skip reading an ocean of alphabets.)

Our motivations are unbelievably interesting--the science is really surprising, and a little bit freaky. We are not as endlessly manipulable and as predictable as you would think.
We understand that when we reward something, we get more of the behavior we want, and when we punish we get less of it.

A study that was done in MIT shows that the typical motivational scheme within organizations--rewarding the top performers while ignoring the bottom ones, pays off only when the task involved uses only mechanical skills, i.e. the higher the pay, the better their performance. But when it comes to tasks that require rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward leads to poorer performance.

Which doesn't really make sense. But not to worry, you're not the only one to think this way.

The researchers thought that maybe the 50 or 60 dollar reward isn't sufficiently motivating for MIT students. So they went to the Madurai, a rural area in India to repeat the experiment. In rural India, 50 dollar USD is roughly equivalent to two-weeks salary for an average worker, which makes it a significant sum of money.

So what happened?

The people that were offered the medium reward did no better than those that were offered the small reward, but the people offered the top reward, they did worst of all.

Higher incentives leads to worse performance. For simple, straightforward tasks, the conventional motivational scheme would yield higher return. But when a task gets complicated, and requires some conceptual, creative thinking, the conventional motivational scheme doesn't work.

FACT: money is a motivator. If you don't pay enough, people won't be motivated. So you have to pay them enough so that they will be thinking about their work instead of the pay.
But what happens when they think about their work? What's the next step to improve their performance?
It turns out that there are three factors that lead to better performance and self satisfaction.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed. Management is great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, which is what we want in the workforce today as people are doing more complicated, sophisticated tasks, self-directed is better.

At a company party on a Thursday afternoon, the employer of the Australian software company said of their developers
"For the next 24 hours you can work on whatever you want and sleep with whoever you want, all we ask is that you show us the result at the end of 24 hours."

It turned out that in one day, a pure, undiluted autonomy has led to a whole array of fixes for existing software and a whole array of ideas for new products that otherwise had never emerged. This is not the conventional innovation bonus. All they did was to request for something, and got out of the way, thus reducing the pressure set upon the developers.

Now we'll talk about mastery. Mastery is our urge to get better at stuff. Why do we play guitar on the weekend? It's not gonna make us money, so why bother playing?
Because it's fun, and you get better at it, and it's satisfying.

Which leads us to purpose.
Example of people doing something not because of money? Well, Linux is one, Apache is another, and finally, the very-essential-lifeline for students, Wikipedia.

The people behind these are highly skilled, and they have jobs! They use their limited discretion time to do equally if not more technically sophisticated tasks, not for their employer, but for someone hidden behind their computer screen for free. That's a strange economic behavior.

Companies that are thriving now are more purpose-driven than profit-driven, partly because it makes coming to work better, and partly because it's a way of getting talent. The science shows that we care about mastery very deeply, and we want to be self-directed, and that we are purpose maximizers. If we start treating people like people instead of horses, then we would not only build organizations that make us better off, but also make the world a little bit better.


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