Carrots and sticks – Motivation and the thinking Donkey

Donkey carrot and stickMotivation is one of those topics that is so important to learning and passing exams that we will constantly keep coming back to it.

If you are motivated when studying then you will study for longer, more frequently and be more focused.

As a result I have written about motivation in the past Motivation – How to want to study, Rocky boxing No – it’s about motivation to name but two.

I have always liked the simple idea that if you want to motivate someone to do something then you give them a reward (carrot) or a punishment (stick). You will probably have used carrot and stick techniques on yourself. If I answer these exam questions by the weekend I will have Sunday off or if I don’t answer these exam questions by the weekend then I won’t have Sunday off.

But are we more complicated?

In his book Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us, Daniel H Pink (a former Al Gore speech writer) argues that there are in fact three motivational systems. One survival , motivated to eat, drink and reproduce. Two, seek reward and avoid punishment, the so called carrot and stick and three, intrinsic  motivation, the idea that motivation comes from within not from external stimuli.

These are not mutually exclusive, you are still motivated to eat, drink and reproduce, equally carrots and sticks do work, but what are these intrinsic motivators.

Type X and Type I

Type X behaviour is fuelled more by extrinsic desire, how much money will I get, I don’t want to have to work Sunday, this fits with carrot and stick. Type I behaviour requires intrinsic motivation and is concerned with the satisfaction gained from an activity. Pink argues that extrinsic motivation works better for algorithmic/routine tasks that require little cognitive processing. But if you have to think, understand, create then intrinsic motivation is more effective. Got it……

And the point is……

Studying and learning require a huge amount of cognitive processing (It is a type I behaviour) and so rather than using carrot and stick motivators you would be better using intrinsic ones. Pink explains that intrinsic motivators can be broken into Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

  • Autonomy – This can be achieved by making your own decisions as to how you study when you study, rather than listening to others or being rewarded for doing it. It’s about taking ownership.
  • Mastery -This is a mind set and involves you believing that what you are learning is not something in isolation but contributing to a greater and longer term skill set.
  • Purpose – This links nicely back to goals, which has been the topic of previous blogs. You must feel that what you are learning has some value and purpose possibly beyond simply passing the exam. Will it help you do your job better etc

Motivation can be difficult to understand, personally I feel that it does come from within (intrinsic), it’s my desire to do something not someone else’s and so the argument that you should not use carrot and stick (extrinsic ) type rewards makes a whole lot of sense.

Let me know what you think….?

Listen to Daniel H Pink at TED And an RSA animated lecture 

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