Motivation and the Cognitive Surplus

This short dis­cus­sion between Clay Shirky and Daniel Pink on cog­nit­ive sur­plus and motiv­a­tion is full of little insights and allu­sions to inter­est­ing pieces of research.

This, from Dan Pink, is a won­der­ful over­view of the research into motiv­a­tion, presen­ted in typ­ic­al Pink clar­ity:

We have a bio­lo­gic­al drive. We eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, have sex to sat­is­fy our car­nal urges. We also have a second drive—we respond to rewards and pun­ish­ments in our envir­on­ment. But what we’ve forgotten—and what the sci­ence shows—is that we also have a third drive. We do things because they’re inter­est­ing, because they’re enga­ging, because they’re the right things to do, because they con­trib­ute to the world. The prob­lem is that, espe­cially in our organ­iz­a­tions, we stop at that second drive. We think the only reas­on people do pro­duct­ive things is to snag a car­rot or avoid a stick. But that’s just not true. Our third drive—our intrins­ic motivation—can be even more power­ful. […]

Both of us cite research from Uni­ver­sity of Rochester psy­cho­lo­gist Edward Deci show­ing that if you give people a con­tin­gent reward—as in “if you do this, then you’ll get that“—for some­thing they find inter­est­ing, they can become less inter­ested in the task. When Deci took people who enjoyed solv­ing com­plic­ated puzzles for fun and began pay­ing them if they did the puzzles, they no longer wanted to play with those puzzles dur­ing their free time. And the sci­ence is over­whelm­ing that for cre­at­ive, con­cep­tu­al tasks, those if-then rewards rarely work and often do harm.

via Link Banana