For a long time, I along with others have had the belief there are two types of motivation. The first, intrinsic motivation or biological drive is the need for food and water fall. The second, extrinsic motivation comes from the outside in the forms of rewards and punishment. Both of these seem pretty simple and are not ground breaking discoveries.
However, the book dives into the theory of a third drive—the performance of the task. This has grown from countless studies that have the same basic setup. The studies form 2-3 groups. One of the groups is made aware of a reward for performing a certain task. A second group is given a reward but had no knowledge they would be receiving one. The final group never receives a reward for completion of the task. Preconceived notions would lead people to believe the group who was given an extrinsic motivation (reward) would perform better. However the results showed something different. While the reward group may have initially performed better, over time their productivity suffered. Almost every study saw this same phenomenon take place. But why did this occur?
The author discusses the theory of “carrots and sticks” which is simply the practice of holding a carrot in front of a subject to encourage favorable responses and using a stick to discourage less favorable. Of course parents, schools, and employers use more accepted methods than a carrot and a stick, but you get the idea. I find myself offering rewards to my son to promote doing something he doesn’t want to do. Everyone does this, yet it is proven to not work in the long term. According to the author, the reason extrinsic rewards don’t work is “the hidden costs of rewards.” Almost everything we do can fall into one of two categories—work and play. Work is whatever we are required to do and play is what we are not required to do. Yes, it is an extremely simple way to look at it, but there is truth to it. In a weird way extrinsic rewards can turn play into work. “If-then” rewards require people to forfeit some of their autonomy. If you really think about it, I am sure you can find something in your life that this would apply to. I just got done with my grad school courses and a common theme among my classmates was the excitement about reading for leisure. I like to read, but being required to read textbooks is much less enjoyable for me than reading on my own. The content doesn’t matter; it is the autonomy I give up when being forced to do something that changes my attitude. I see this everyday in my 3 year old as well. However, just as I know with dealing with my 3 year old and even my grad courses, there are some things we are just required to do. Sometimes we just have to find a better way to frame it in a way that doesn’t seem like such a chore.
This is such as short summary of what I have read so far and have probably not done the book justice. I am very interested to see what the author suggests as an alternative. The answers may change my opinions and practices in my career as well as my role as a parent.