Carrots, sticks and motivation

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us By Daniel H. Pink, 2009 Riverhead Books


By Anthony O. Alcantara

When we were kids, our parents would offer rewards if we got good grades. Say a shiny new red bicycle or a Mickey Mouse watch. When that didn’t work, they offered less palatable alternatives. They included a good whack in the behind or a one-week house arrest.

It’s pretty much the same with kids these days. And adults have graduated from shiny red bicycles to cars and big fat bonuses. A good whack in the behind has turned into a suspension or a demotion.

But do carrots and sticks work? Most of the time, they don’t, according to author Daniel H. Pink.

In his book Drive, he shows how rewards and punishments are the most outdated and misused tools in motivation on the planet. And we’ve all been misled.

Pink uses a software metaphor to describe the evolution of motivation. Motivation 1.0 was about survival. Food, shelter and sex were the only buttons to push. When the industrial revolution came, we discovered Motivation 2.0, which basically involves carrots and sticks, or rewards and punishments.

This version of motivation was quite effective then. But now that we’re in the 21st century, they don’t work most of the time. If we offer rewards to our kids when they do well in school, or punish them if their grades plummet like politicians’ approval ratings, we don’t inspire them to do things for their own good. They’ll respond only to rewards and threats of punishment.

Pink says these traditional “if-then” rewards have other undesirable and unintended drawbacks.

They can stifle creativity, lead to poor performance, and encourage bad behavior and short-term thinking. This applies to adults as much as to children. That’s why we have this mess with greedy and unscrupulous companies. While “if-then” rewards still work for rule-based routine tasks where intrinsic motivation and creativity don’t matter much, there’s a better alternative.

Pink calls them occasional “now that” rewards. You don’t announce them beforehand, of course.

There’s proof that “if-then” thinking costs a lot of money, both for individuals and companies. That’s because we have become a society where work is more creative and less routine compared to repetitive and back-breaking work during the industrial revolution.

Aside from that, the scientific discovery of intrinsic motivation compelled a few experts to tweak their concept of motivation. Extrinsic motivation involves aspirations for fame or wealth. But intrinsic motivation involves helping other people improve their lives or to realize one’s full potential. It involves a higher purpose in life.

It’s a little bit philosophical, and it reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I think is a misnomer since we can simultaneously pursue each one.

So what’s Daniel H. Pink’s solution? Motivation 3.0.

Pink says this will turn us from Type X (extrinsic) individuals to Type I (intrinsic) individuals. Motivation 3.0 involves three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy caters to our desire to direct our own lives. Mastery involves our urge to be better and better in things that matter. Purpose satisfies that need to be part of something larger than ourselves.

For autonomy, we need some leeway in doing things on our own, discovering things for ourselves, learning from our mistakes. As for mastery, we like to be able to assess ourselves and make measurements to see if we are doing better in what we do. Small steps and improvements matter.

And as for purpose, organizations are beginning to use language that emphasizes profit maximization with purpose maximization. These are organizations that build schools, create environment-friendly products, and offer education for the poor. Many individuals do the same.

To remember what Pink said in the book, I made an acronym: A.M.P. it up! That way I’ll remember autonomy, mastery and purpose so I can motivate and inspire myself and other people better.

I hope you’ll remember them, too. And please, don’t tell kids that you’ll give them a Sony Play Station if they get good grades.



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