The current economic crisis has led to a lot of new insights in how we should deal with our economy. On of those insights is that it seems that big bonuses don’t seem to work well. The banks of who the top executives had huge bonuses, haven’t exactly performed very well. There is a different way to get results, and would you believe me if I told you this has actually been scientifically proven and has been known for over 60 years?
Whenever we encourage someone to do something in exchange of a reward, we are extrinsically motivating them. In simpler terms, their motivation should come from external stimuli, such as a money bonus for example.
The financial crisis has shown that these extrinsic motivations do not actually produce the results we expect from them. We would expect people to improve in performance if we give them the proverbial carrot to chase. Using the proverbial stick to ‘punish’ unwanted behavior has the same counter-intuitive effect.
Our society is drenched with extrinsic motivation. From a young age, we are given rewards and punishments for wanted and unwanted behavior respectively. It is no wonder we don’t know better than to use extrinsic motivation to get what we want from others…
The opposite of extrinsic motivation is intrinsic motivation. It is the motivation we get from inside ourselves, without any other external rewards, when doing something.
Intrinsic motivation is what drives people to play an instrument, do sports, learn photography, etc, without ever having a chance to make a single dime from their efforts. Their intrinsic motivation consists of a form of fulfillment they get when pursuing the activity.
This intrinsic motivation is hardly used by entrepreneurs, executives and managers. While we all know what it is, because we all have activities we do without any gain other than personal fulfillment (i.e. fun).
There is actually scientific proof that extrinsic motivation isn’t nearly as effective as intrinsic motivation. As early as 1949 an experiment was conducted by Harry F. Harlow, that suggested that intrinsic motivation was present in primates.
The experiment showed results that were so controversial, that the idea was completely ignored until 1969. In that year Edward Deci got interested in the topic, and decided to use it for his dissertation at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Edward Deci used the Soma cube, which is a puzzle consisting of 7 pieces which look like Tetris blocks. Deci divided his test subjects into two groups; group A and group B. Both groups were taking part in three sessions of one hour each, during three days.
Each session took part as follows. The participant entered a room where the pieces of the Soma puzzle were placed on a table, drawings of three possible configurations of the puzzle and copies of Time Magazine, The New Yorker and Playboy (remember, it was 1969). Deci was on the other end of the table to give instructions.
During the sessions the participants of both groups had to reconstruct the configurations they were presented on paper, using the Soma puzzle pieces. During the second session they did the same with new drawings, but now Deci told the participants from group A that they could earn a dollar (equivalent to roughly 5 dollars today) for every configuration they successfully built. Group B wasn’t given a reward.
The last day was the same as the first, so neither group was given a reward. The final schedule looked like this:
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3|
|Group A||No reward||Reward||No reward|
|Group B||No reward||No reward||No reward|
The crucial part took place half way during the second session. When the participant had reproduced two of the three configurations, Deci stopped the experiment. He told them he had to enter the results in a computer (big, slow machines back then) to determine which drawing to give the participant next. This meant that Deci had to leave the room. In the meanwhile, the participant was allowed to ‘do something for themselves’.
Instead of entering the results, Deci went to a room with a two-way mirror to observe the participant. During exactly 8 minutes he observed the participant’s behavior.
Day 1 showed little difference between group A and B. Both continued with the puzzle for roughly 3,5 minutes before starting to do something else. On day 2 group A (the paid group) performed better than group B (non-paid group), spending over 5 minutes on the Soma puzzle.
But the interesting thing happened on day 3. Deci told the participants from group A that there was only enough money to pay them for one day, so that the last day was unpaid. The participants from group B spent more time on the puzzle than they had before. But the participants from group A (the previously paid group) spent far less time on the puzzle.
This led to the conclusion that human motivation works in completely different ways than we had until then taken under consideration.
Other Experiments, Same Conclusion
There have been countless other experiments that have been conducted since, that all prove the same thing. The reason to conduct so many experiments was that the results are so counter-intuitive, that they are hard to accept.
The conclusion always was that when people are motivated intrinsically, they perform better and more consistently than when they are motivated extrinsically.
Extrinsic motivation works very well for a short duration. Much like caffeine does, before the effect wears off. But if you want to have good performance from your employees or team members, they need to be intrinsically motivated!
Title image copyright by Paul Foreman – Mindmapinspiration.com