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.

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