Rewards Without Killing Intrinsic Motivation

A group of kids were given paint and brush to make paintings and the Kids expressed their creativity with full enthusiasm. Later the same group was told that they would be given rewards for painting. This time kids painted as they did last time… this time with more vigor but slightly better results. The same group of kids were on another day given paint and brush and were asked to paint with NO Rewards. Guess what happened this time? Several children decided not to paint! They found it just NOT worth the effort any more! {Ref: Book Drive by author Pink; Watch his video: }

What caused the kids to paint the first time? It was the inner joy of doing the activity which the psychologists call as “Intrinsic Motivation”. When external rewards were stacked, the intrinsic motivation died and kids chose to do it for external motivation, the reward!

An old joke captures this phenomenon as well as any study could. It is the story of an elderly man who endured the insults of a crowd of ten-year-olds each day as they passed his house on their way home from school. One afternoon, after listening to another round of jeers about how stupid and ugly and bald he was, the man came up with a plan. He met the children on his lawn the following Monday and announced that anyone who came back the next day and yelled rude comments about him would receive a dollar. Amazed and excited, they showed up even earlier on Tuesday, hollering epithets for all they were worth. True to his word, the old man ambled out and paid everyone. “Do the same tomorrow,” he told them, “and you’ll get twenty-five cents for your trouble.” The kids thought it was still pretty good and turned out again on Wednesday to taunt him. At the first catcall, he walked over with a roll of quarters and again paid his hecklers. “From now on,” he announced, “I can give you only a penny for doing this.” The kids looked at each other in disbelief. “A penny?” they repeated scornfully. “Forget it!” And they never came back again! (Story Courtesy Vyas Umesh)

Intrinsic motivationThis man on the left was working very hard to fix traffic light post that has been hit by a truck and got damaged. I asked him why he was doing this and he said his owner took contract from government to fix these light posts. Given he was taking all the trouble of standing in middle of that traffic and pollution at night and yet doing a very precise work with  great quality I asked him why he was taking so much care to do it so well? he could just finish it quickly and get going! Government would still pay him! For that he said this is his work and he likes doing it right! What is it if not INTRINSIC MOTIVATION!

How do you get most people to take such great personal care in doing work RIGHT? Rewarding for each great work would ensure the owner would not make profits! Not providing rewards would ensure only those few intrinsically motivated people do a great work. Stick or punishments could be implemented to ensure people acheive minimum expectation but not excellence.

Is there any way to get people to do their best? Of course YES!

Reward is not always CASH: Recognition has always played a role in improving intrinsic motivation and deriving compliance. The British awarded “sir” in order to capitalized on this human behavior, didn’t they!

Random Awards: Cash award need not be given for every great work. Random work of excellence could be given high award creating an expectation for great work once in a while. This anticipation alone could motivate people for long.

Flexibility: providing a little flexibility to person who has demonstrated great work allows holding person more accountable to achieve excellence. No flexibility breeds mediocre doesn’t it?

Sweepstakes: Allowing people to participate in sweepstakes only on achieving certain level of quality consistently allows in creating a motivation to achieve excellence and avoids flip side of pressurizing people.

End of reward? No, for achieving minimum expected quality, one must device some sort of award. But reward have limitation beyond this point!

In such ways, one could device rewards in that does not kill intrinsic motivation and at the same time garners more compliance and desired behavior.

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