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Intrinsic motivation models

Let's look at modern motivation theories, particularly intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation: reward and punishment

Motivation systems distinguish extrinsic and intrinsic motivating factors. At the workplace, the most common extrinsic motivators are reward and punishment ("carrots and sticks"). Until recently they were the default approach to people management. As Peter from "Office Space" brilliantly describes it:

Now, if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime. So where's the motivation? … And here's another thing, when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my real motivation - is not to be hassled. That and the fear of losing my job, but y'know, Bob, it will only make someone work hard enough not to get fired.

A gif from the movie "Office Space" saying "It's a problem of motivation, all right?"
Notice how Peter is depicted as motivated only by money or being hassled / fired.

Intrinsic motivation: RAMP model

But researchers also noticed that people voluntarily partake in activities that don't provide any reward: playing games, solving puzzles, tackling challenges. Something inside us makes us do that - these are the intrinsic motivation factors.

Two models are mentioned the most frequently (in my social network bubble). The first one is the Theory of Self-Determination (SDT) by Deci and Ryan. It lists three core motivators:

  • Autonomy - the feeling of having choice and control over your actions and decisions.
  • Relatedness - the need to feel connected to others, to belong to a group.
  • Competence - being an expert, being effective at what you do.

Another popular theory is the Drive model by Daniel Pink. Its core components are Autonomy (same as in SDT), Mastery (corresponds to Competence in SDT), and Purpose - knowing why you do what you do.

Since there is a noticeable overlap, there is a third model created from the previous two called RAMP - an abbreviation for Relationships, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. (If I understand correctly, the model was created by A Human Workplace.) For example, mission command approach contains all four RAMP components.

Extrinsic motivators suppress the intrinsic ones

In the book "Drive", Daniel Pink describes an experiment where one group of children were promised a reward for drawing pictures, and others just drew because they enjoyed it. After the experiment, the children in the first group showed less interest in drawing later. It turns out an extrinsic motivator can deplete the intrinsic ones.

In life, once you attempt to motivate with a reward or a threat - there is a spike of motivation that rapidly depletes. To maintain it, you must provide bigger rewards (or increasingly scarier threats). Otherwise, you end up with highly demotivated people.

Here is a talk by Andrzej Marczewski from the Gamification Europe conference: the second case he describes is how an extrinsic reward ruined a system with built-in intrinsic motivation. A notable quote:

What you must not do - and you really must not do - is to offer a reward.

Using motivation models

One way to apply a motivation model is to define the driving motivating factor for every team member. It sounds a bit troublesome, so I use it as a checklist for detecting gaps:

  • Do people feel like a team that moves towards a common goal?
  • Is the objective clear enough?
  • Does everyone have a chance to express their opinion?
  • Can people decide how to do their work? Can they choose how to contribute?

And to summarize with another popular saying that I like:

You don't need to motivate people — instead, remove what demotivates them.

(Cover photo - by Todd Diemer on Unsplash)

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