Thoughts on Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

motivation

I have developed my own theory on motivation:

Robin’s “What’s in it for me” theory of motivation

The “What’s in it for me?” theory of motivation is based on the idea that people are most strongly motivated when they realize the “what’s in it for them” or relevance of the task at hand. Further, once they realize the benefits or rewards, they must also aim to understand WHY they may have chosen to engage in behaviours detrimental to the original task, or goal.

My theory is an intrinsic theory, in that it’s internal and self-driven. Now, only if I could stick to it completely…well, that’s another blog entirely.

In Dan Pink’s 2009 Ted Talk on motivation he uses the “Candle Problem” experiment to explain that extrinsic motivational factors (money, bonuses, commissions) only work in situations where the task is simple and the solution is easy.

As a mother of three, I find that little rewards, including allowance money is motivating enough to get my kids to tasks accomplish basic tasks such as making their beds, brushing their teeth and cleaning their rooms. Inspiring them to tackle a challenging math problem is a little different.

Many menial tasks have been automated and jobs now-a-days require critical thinking. Pink states that much of the work undertaken by individuals these days requires “out-of-the-box” left-brained thinking where solutions are complex, multifaceted, and may not even exist.

In this instance, over 40 years of research has shown that extrinsic motivational factors fail big time at getting work done. “Economists at the London School of Economics looked at 51 studies of pay-for-performance plans, inside of companies. Here’s what they said: “We find that financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance”” (Pink, 2009).

Yikes! This is an issue!

Pink suggests that there are better ways to motivate people for “left-brained” work including giving them autonomy and allowing employees to self-direct, as opposed to being “managed” through tasks. He also lists mastery and importance on the list but speaks most about autonomy.

Pink cites the example of Google which famously allows it’s employees autonomy. Engineers are allowed to spend 20% of their time working on their own projects, which they then present to the company for consideration. Google News and Gmail were born from this innovative exercise.

It’s great to understand how to inspire extrinsic motivation; however, what about internal motivation and the role that plays?

We’ve already discussed the extrinsic incentive theory but what motivates us internally?

Instinct theory
“According to instinct theories, people are motivated to behave in certain ways because they are evolutionarily programmed to do so” (2015, Cherry, K). The shark following the kayaker would be an example as it’s a inborn animal behaviour, like seasonal migration.

Drive Theory
“According to the drive theory of motivation, people are motivated to take certain actions in order to reduce the internal tension that is caused by unmet needs. For example, you might be motivated to drink a glass of water in order to reduce the internal state of thirst” (2015, Cherry, K).

This is good, and makes sense, but what about those times we eat when we’re not really hungry? We’re driven by more that just physiological needs.

Arousal Theory
“The arousal theory of motivation suggests that people take certain actions to either decrease or increase levels of arousal. When arousal levels get too low, for example, a person might watch an exciting movie or go for a jog” (2015, Cherry, K). According to this theory, we are motivated to maintain an optimal level of arousal, although this level can vary based on the individual or the situation.

Humanistic theories
“Humanistic theories of motivation are based on the idea that people also have strong cognitive reasons to perform various actions”(2015, Cherry, K). This is demonstrated in  Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which presents different motivations at different levels.

I’m going to add my own theory here…

Robin’s “What’s in it for me” theory of motivation

The “What’s in it for me?” theory of motivation is based on the idea that people are most strongly motivated when they realize the “what’s in it for them” or relevance of the task at hand. Further, once they realize the benefits or rewards, they must also aim to understand WHY they may have chosen to engage in behaviours detrimental to the original task, or goal.

Only then, can they get back to taking the steps towards getting “what’s in it for them”.

Works cited:
Pink, Dan. “Transcript of “The Puzzle of Motivation”” Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation. 1 July 2009. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. <http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation/transcript?language=en&gt;

Cherry, Kendra. “Theories of Motivation in Psychology.” Theories of Motivation in Psychology. About.com, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. <http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologytopics/tp/theories-of-motivation.htm&gt;.

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About robincookbondy

My name is Robin Cook Bondy and I live in Ladner, BC with my husband and three sons. I am a communications and public relations professional pursuing further education in the area of adult learning.
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