What motivates us

A friend of mine recently sent me an insightful animate of a talk about an MIT social experiment where somewhat surprising results were seen. The study showed that higher monetary rewards can usually lead to a decrease in performance if money is the ONLY reward employees get for their work. It explains that money is a great incentive in repetitive mechanical tasks but when tasks require greater cognitive abilities and creativity, autonomy, mastery and purpose were far more important.

I say this is “somewhat” surprising to me not because I didn’t expect these results but rather that these results were finally found in a controlled scientific study. I had seen the behavioral patterns illustrated in the talk in myself as well as some colleagues. Being financially compensated fairly for our work is necessary but not sufficient. Looking back at my career so far, I’ve spent a lot of time doing extra “work” after work hours totally unrelated to my real job simply for the enjoyment of it. I have read and taught myself different aspects of technology not because it will eventually help me get a raise or obtain a better position but because I simply enjoy it like one might enjoy playing a musical instrument. This gives me some purpose and reaffirms the love I have for this profession even after sometimes stressful days. I am definitely not the only one who feels the same way. It is then not surprising to me that this same behavior can be seen in a more general context.

Watch the video:

One thought on “What motivates us

  1. this is great! i went to your site looking for info on iget for firefox and happened upon this article, and got a nice inspirational jolt. this path of thinking is a fine example of the best of “trickle down” theory. it definitely removes the greed aspect because, when you think about it, an altruistic stand is far more rewarding than money. sure, being paid your worth is great, but making lots in a constraint environment is pretty draining. but having a purpose that is also self rewarding is like the wonderful feeling a teacher gets from hearing an old student returning to praise him or her because of their growth or success. seeing that you were able to contribute in that aspect is a sort of validation in itself, and it inspires you to do better. thanks for this!

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