Daniel Pink’s Drive was Right – Intrinsic (Internal) Motivation is the Best Motivation


This is a little on the academic side, but worth a careful look.  Here’s the way the article begins:

There are two kinds of motive for engaging in any activity: internal and instrumental. If a scientist conducts research because she wants to discover important facts about the world, that’s an internal motive, since discovering facts is inherently related to the activity of research. If she conducts research because she wants to achieve scholarly renown, that’s an instrumental motive, since the relation between fame and research is not so inherent. Often, people have both internal and instrumental motives for doing what they do.
Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz, The Secret of Effective Motivation (from the New York Times Sunday Review).

drive_book-by-daniel-pink_danpinkdotcom1This article describes research that supports the argument made by Daniel Pink in Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. In his book, Mr. Pink argues that the extrinsic motivation, primary in the “industrial age” workplace for so long, is no longer as effective in this new, creative, information age worker era. Here’s his summary:

This is a book about motivation. Most businesses haven’t caught up to this new understanding of what motivates us. Too many organizations – not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well – still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science… Something has gone wrong.

For too long, there’s been a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. The goal of this book is to repair that breach.

But, though the book Drive, and this new study confirming its premise, tell us something important, I’m not sure they tell us how to get there..

The issue is this: what is the best motivation for people in the workplace (and, in the other pursuits in a human life?)

Or, to put it in “hiring terms,” should we hire people who are motivated intrinsically (internal motivation) or extrinsically (instrumental motivation)?

The study was conducted on West Point students. There were two kinds of students; those motivated primarily with internal motivation, and those with a combination of internal motivation and instrumental motivation. The assumption was that the people with the combination of the two would be the most highly motivated, and thus the most successful. It turns out, not so much; that assumption was wrong. From the article about the study:

Remarkably, cadets with strong internal and strong instrumental motives for attending West Point performed worse on every measure than did those with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones. They were less likely to graduate, less outstanding as military officers and less committed to staying in the military.
The implications of this finding are significant. Whenever a person performs a task well, there are typically both internal and instrumental consequences. A conscientious student learns (internal) and gets good grades (instrumental). A skilled doctor cures patients (internal) and makes a good living (instrumental). But just because activities can have both internal and instrumental consequences does not mean that the people who thrive in these activities have both internal and instrumental motives.

So, the finding is this – the primary motivation that is most successful is the internal motivation (the intrinsic motivation).

But, what we do not know is this – how do we turn a person who is motivated by instrumental motivation (extrinsic motivation) into one motivated by internal motivation (intrinsic motivation)? When we can answer that question, and succeed in that “switch,” then we can see some significant change for the better…

And, of course, this calls for a self-knowledge check. What is your primary motivation? If it is not internal (intrinsic) motivation, then you’ve got your own challenges to work through.

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