Sunday, September 23, 2012

Type X and Type I

I have been reading a book called "Drive", by Daniel Pink. I had come across another one of his books earlier this year, and found it very interesting. Among the changes I made as a result of that book: I submitted an entry to a t-shirt design competition at work, designed a template for communications on one of my projects, and wrote to a flosser manufacturer when their product didn't work as described. So when I looked up Pink's next book, and checked it out of the library, what I found was another fascinating account - of motivation. His thesis, which he spells out only after going through a large volume of related research on this topic, is that after Motivation 1.0 (basic biological urges) and Motivation 2.0 (rewards and punishments), it is time to develop and deploy a third model of human motivation, Motivation 3.0, which taps into the innate human tendency to enjoy and excel in our endeavors. Mirroring the Type A and Type B terminology used to describe personalities, he proposes Type X (extrinsic) and Type I (intrinsic) categories of motivation, and examines in great depth how each works in different fields and kinds of work.

My personal interest in this comes from parenting. In the last few years, as my two boys have reached 'tween-age', and as questions of homework and chores and "inappropriate" behavior pop up like so many tropical storms in a year-round hurricane season, I've found myself profoundly dissatisfied with the usual rewards-and-consequences system of raising kids. Especially with 'consequences', the thinly-disguised word for punishments, which I found to have almost no redeeming value the way it is commonly implemented. So when I read "Drive", I found plenty of support for a more enlightened and nuanced view of human motivations.

I haven't quite digested the book completely, given the hit-and-run style of reading that I've employed with it so far, but I thought I'd share some tidbits from it here. Most of these are studies (psychology departments in universities around the world seem to have money to study the darndest things), and while I have my own reservations about the whole topic of controlled studies, I'm taking them at face value for now.

1. The study that started it all (though it was ignored for quite a while at first, due to findings that were contrary to established thinking at the time, a few decades ago): two groups of people were given a set of puzzles to solve, in three daily sessions. Conditions were identical for both, except that Group 1 was given a monetary reward just on Day 2. The result: their motivation dropped on Day 3. This was the first time a study found that giving money as an external reward reduces intrinsic motivation for a task.
2. A similar result, this time with preschool students who liked to draw. They were divided into three groups: one promised a reward upfront (Pink calls it the 'if-then' reward), one given an unexpected reward at the end of the activity (the 'now-that' reward) and the third group given no reward. The experiment observed that interest in drawing after the experiment dropped in both the first two groups.
3. Another similar experiment, this time with IT workers in Madurai, India. Three groups were given puzzles to solve, with rewards of 4, 40 and 400 rupees. The group given the 400-rupee reward performed the worst.
4. An Israeli day-care center imposed fines on people arriving late to pick up their kids. Late-comer rates almost doubled after this change.
5. A small 22-person company called Meddius instituted a ROWE experiment: Results-Oriented Work Environment. Employees were only expected to produce results, and all expectations on methods were removed - no work hours, etc. The experiment was so successful that the company instituted it permanently.
6. Pessimists are proven to be worse than optimists at all professions except law.
7. The book also makes a distinction between Performance goals and Learning goals, and how they influence productivity, happiness and persistence.

There's a whole chapter specifically for parents and educators on how to awaken the intrinsic motivation in children. I'm looking forward to implementing those tips at home. There's nothing as satisfying and inspiring as seeing someone taking a genuine interest in a subject and directing their own learning, and nothing as dispiriting as having to constantly monitor and pester and harass someone to ensure task completion.

I would love to hear other experiences and tips on this.

1 comment:

  1. Sree, The overtones your triad (designing a t-shirt, designing a communications plan, and writing a manufacturer of floss) are resonating in my mind. What economy of communication!

    The first thing that occurred to me as I read your list of seven study results is that what matters most about motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic) is that it is sustainable. The second thing was that the cost of maintaining the same level of motivation will likely increase over time, certainly with extrinsic motivation. So while the level of motivation remains constant, the time, cost and effort required can grow significantly.

    Then it occurred to me that truly intrinsic motivators likely scale with activity level. Perhaps that's a good test for intrinsic-ity. If a motivator is truly intrinsic to an activity or tast, then the level of motivation will increase proportionally to the level of activity.

    Then it occurred to me: OK, this is why nothing ever works, at least nothing when it comes to diet and exercise plans, or self-help programs, or get rich schemes, or career planning. Unless you learn to love whatever task you've undertaken: you'll quit or you'll painfully endure, and you'll never compete with someone who does it for the pure joy of it.

    I thought about my personal motivators. I love working out because of how it makes me feel every time I do it. I don't have any goals for my workouts other than feeling good and therefore haven't had any problem working out every day for years now.

    I love the sensations of playing music the tactile sense of the instrument, the aural sensation of the sound, and the mental playing field that lays out before me as sounds come together. I love the newness of it as we explore new music or as we discover new ways to play old music. I realize that the newness is part of sustainability. Playing the same thing over and over in the same way wouldn't do it for me: no amount of money would make that motivating (at least not for long).

    I love writing software because it's the ultimate tinker-toy set. You can build anything from what you have on hand. There are not limits save for your own creativity. I realize that the type of work I do (implementing new ideas in software versus programming what's been defined in a project document) is a key to my strong motivation. Were I a programmer in a large software factory, I'd like not enjoy it as much: perhaps not at all.

    Thanks for the provocation!



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