When to use external motivation
Stephen Bounds — Tue, 23/04/2013 - 08:41
It's well established that paying for tasks people already find enjoyable may have the perverse effect of reducing their motivation to conduct those activities.
Therefore, the challenge of modifying the behavior of any complex system is deciding whether you focus on extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. By definition, people will resist any attempts at instilling intrinsic motivation coercively. However, there are occasions where an extrinsic motivation may serve to overcome an intrinsic inhibitor, eg the oft-cited but rare practice of paying school students to attend class.
(You will note the folly of a one-size fits all policy in this area, ie the motivated student would be demotivated by payment, whereas the discouraged student may be motivated to attempt something they normally would avoid.)
Furthermore, extrinsic motivators only have a short-term positive effect, and will eventually have a negative impact, particularly if they are later removed:
In general, embracing intrinsic motivators is a natural and preferred method for controlling human systems. In past centuries, religious belief systems were used as a method of reinforcing intrinsic motivators across cultures (the unkind might say brainwashing).
Unfortunately, the pathology of most for-pay organisations means that external motivators tend to be most effective due to the self-interested behavior of most participants. Expressed in prisoner's dilemma terms, intrinsic motivators fail rapidly in the face of betrayal and will be replaced by a wary "tit-for-tat" approach (at best).
Therefore, most for-profit organisation primarily rely upon extrinsic motivation (eg money) although even here high performers tend to have intrinsic motivations for staying (eg personal growth).
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