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How to motivate ourselves & others

Last week I asked the question – how do we influence people? This  week is a slightly different question – how do we motivate people? Influence is more indirect, and  has the connotation of being disingenuous. Motivation is more aboveboard, but somehow still connected to influence. In examining motivation, I return to the example of my spouse, then review the key points of Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and also look at how I can motivate myself.

How I motivated my spouse to clean the living roomCarrot and Stick Incentive

Last week while trying to get my husband to clean his stuff out of the living room, I tried to influence him with the idea of a more organized house, with the idea of him as a more organized person, and also with idea of my help. But because it felt wrong — dishonest really — to attempt influence him without him knowing, I decided to be more direct and started my campaign with the words “I want to influence you.” That was about as far as I got. He so loved the idea that I was trying to influence him, that he came over and gave me a hug, and the rest was relatively easy.

I’d like to take the credit for this magic trick, but let’s be honest, there was another motivating factor: we had a new couch arriving. The email of the impending arrival came the same week I was trying to get the cleaning done. That was the real motivation. My influence just helped get it done in a more timely manner. The arrival of the couch meant the completion of the living room, one of the last rooms to be completed in our long renovation saga. It was also about the completion of his idea of home. This was the underlying motivation.

Drive: the book about motivation

Daniel Pink’s new book Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, is actually not that surprising for many of us who have worked in the field of education. The work of Deci & Ryan (intrinsic & extrinsic motivations); Carol Dweck (how our beliefs in intelligence affect our view of ourselves as learners); and of course, Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi (the idea of flow.) What Pink does it put it all together in a compelling package and relates it to the world of work. Because of this, I found his book useful in thinking about motivation — and summarize the key components below.

Beyond carrots and sticks – the 3 components of motivation

Here is the twitter version of the book that the author provides (in the Toolkit section – yes, did I mention it was well-packaged?):

Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.

That’s it. You don’t have to read the book – it’s about intrinsic motivation – or autonomy, mastery & purpose. Understanding these 3 components will help motivate people for most types of work, he argues, especially work in the “new economy” of the “21st century”. With some types of repetitive work, apparently sticks and carrots still are good motivators (the post office comes to mind.) But for “knowledge workers”, he argues, it’s different — assuming that you compensate people fairly.

  • Autonomy – people need autonomy over what they do (task), when they do it (time), who they do it with (team), and how they do it (technique) – (derived from Deci/Ryan plus others)
  • Mastery – begins with flow (Csikszenmihalyi) – optimal experiences when the task  is neither too easy or too hard, but just above our level, pushing us to get better. Mastery is a mindset where one sees abilities not as finite or set (Dweck), but as infinite – the anything is possible mindset. However, mastery is painful, requiring grit and deliberate practice (Schon plus others). Mastery is impossible to fully realize – one can always get better.
  • Purpose – people need purpose – goals that use profit to reach purpose (social innovations); when we need more than self- interest (hello, non-profit world); the idea of purpose maximization, as opposed to profit maximization.

My questions – But do we always know what we want and need? Will it get us to where we want to go? Or take us to unexpected places? When I’ve been placed on teams that are with people that I don’t like and know is when I’ve learned the most about how to work with people different from myself. It is then when I’ve grown. And sometimes these teams create the most innovative ideas — when we step outside our usual ways of being.

And, let’s be honest: extrinsic motivation matters. I wanted to do my Masters — I choose it as my purpose/task. But if I didn’t have a deadline (i.e. spouse threatening insanity if I didn’t finish), then no, I would not have completed it and graduated. If I didn’t start a blog called the Unfinished Masters, and asked all my friends to read it and keep me on track — then no, I would not have finished.

Yes – autonomy, mastery, and purpose make sense — but do people always know what they want and need? Can everyone function on intrinsic motivation alone? This is where influence comes to play, in defining purpose, in setting deadlines or other forms of extrinsic motivation.

How to motivate

  • Understand people’s purpose, or help them shape their purpose and goals.
    Many educators do this at the start of class (see Learning Cycle blog)
  • Can you structure the interaction so they can achieve mastery? Achieve a level of performance above what they currently have? (Think how video games are constantly challenging players just above their level. Hard to do sometimes for a mixed group.)
  • Give them autonomy on how they reach their goals.

So these ideas are very general, let me try to apply to a couple situations.

Motivating my spouse

  • Purpose: My spouse wants an organized, functional and beautiful house. Therefore, position the work on tasks that will make the house more functional, and not just because I’m asking him to clean.
  • Autonomy: Within the purpose of organizing/increasing functionality let him choose his task; let him do it his way (technique), on his time (with deadlines of course – the couch was the extrinsic motivation part). And does he get to choose his team? Well, he choose to marry me – so yes.
  • Mastery: Will the task have flow? Maybe if it’s a challenge of how quickly we can get it done. Can he believe he can do it — yes; although it won’t require practice, it will require grit.

In writing this outline of motivating my husband, I think it’s more for me than for him.

Motivating my own learning — about wine

  • Ever since moving to the Bay Area I’ve wanted to learn more about wine. The grape varieties, the vintners, the regions, etc. My purpose is simple – to become a better Californian and learn about wine.
  • Autonomy:I choose to learn about wine by creating a learning module (task). I’d like to try out a new Instructional Design model that I’ve been reading about (technique). I’d like to put it online. My team is myself, and perhaps a couple friends I can cajole into advising as needed. My technique will also involve sampling said wines 🙂 The time – that’s the hard part — that where I need extrinsic motivation. That’s why I’m writing about this – I’d like to get YOU to help motivate me to complete this by mid-April.
  • Mastery: I believe that I am capable of learning about wine; I also believe that I am capable of mastering the domain of wine — and be able to choose wines to go with food, wines to drink at parties, wines as gifts — and maybe more. This will require grit, deliberate practice, and refining my palette for wine. It will also require a drinking buddy.

In the process of writing these points, it becomes clear to me that my challenge is always, will always be the deadline. I love to read and research, but without the extrinsic motivation of the deadline, I would accomplish very little. This essential point is what Pink only touches on — that we need that external structure of deadlines, office spaces where we do our work, the exercise classes — to motivate us to keep focused and keep us going. We often need others to create expectations that we then fulfill. We need that social connection, and sometimes social pressure, to motivate us.

Posted in book reviews, instructional design, tools.

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2 Responses

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  1. Dwayne Hodgson says

    Mastering wine! I’ll drink to that. Thanks for another thoughtful reflection. I love Pinks three motivators: autonomy, mastery and purpose. These would be equally applicable to a knowledge worker as to people taking part in a learning event, eh? (Although, in Dialogue Education, we’d probably describe them with the principles of Learners as Subjects, Safety/Challenge, and Relevance/Immediacy). But I really like this framework that you’ve summarized so well. Cheers, dh

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  1. The twatter about twitter | wander@will linked to this post on March 30, 2010

    […] to the opportunity to add to my portfolio and was a warm up exercise to get me motivated to do that learning thing I want to do about wine, which, you know, I’m getting […]

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