Monday, November 29, 2010

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us the Most

It's not money.

RSA presented this entertaining video.  As the video demonstrates, obviously money can be an incentive, but research (from Carnegie Mellon, University of Chicago, and MIT) shows that money is only an incentive in the short term, and mainly for rudimentary tasks that involve little cognitive effort.

For example, workers performing simple, repetitive tasks will work harder and faster, if money is the prize for top performers.

But workers who rely on critical thinking and creativity to do their jobs actually perform poorer when green carrots are dangled in front of their noses, according to research.

Why is this?

The only way workers can channel the ideas and thought processes that help them accomplish big things - the sort of things that have a true impact in their companies and on society - is by being engaged.  And engagement comes from genuine interest in ownership, autonomy, and mastery of a skill.

This engagement is called intrinsic motivation.  It exists in all of us, as human beings.  If properly harnessed - and this is the true challenge - it is the most powerful incentive available to employers and employees.  Intrinsic motivation is HR's utopian dream.

Still, why would money detract from that? Can't employees be simultaneously intrinsically and monetarily motivated?

The video doesn't address that question in depth, but here are our thoughts:

Yes and no.  Employees must receive enough money to live comfortably, taking the issue of money off the table.  When A) a worker isn't paid enough, or B) money is used to try to control the creative process, money then becomes a distraction from the task at hand.  The worker is either A) thinking he must find a different task to pay his bills, or, B) derailed from the most effective incentive - accomplishing the task itself.

Businesses whose models tap into intrinsic motivation quite possibly have the most productive and fulfilled employees.

What motivates you? We'd love to hear your comments.


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