What's one of the WORST ways to motivate someone? Hint: You see it all the time.

TRUE or FALSE: The best way to motivate a certain behavior in someone is simply to reward them for it.


False. Well, kind of.

Of course, it's not entirely that simple. The ideal motivation depends on what kind of task you're trying to get someone to accomplish. Author Daniel Pink cites a couple studies that prove this whole motivation thing is a lot more complicated than we thought. Let's take a look.

The experiment: Give people different levels of cash rewards to perform various tasks.


Seems pretty straightforward, right? People were asked to memorize numbers, solve crosswords, play basketball — all sorts of stuff. And they were promised cash rewards as motivation. Money money money money! So, what happened?

The result: For any tasks that called for cognitive skill, higher pay resulted in poorer performance.

Say WHHAAAAATTT!? Yep. As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as expected: higher pay = better performance. But as soon as the task called for cognitive skill, bonuses worked in the opposite way: higher pay = poorer performance.

OK, well then how do you motivate people to perform those tasks that do require thought?

Daniel Pink says the answer here lies in three fancy buzzwords: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

First, you gotta pay people enough that money is no longer an issue. Then they can actually focus on the work at hand. That's where autonomy (our desire to be in charge of our own lives), mastery (our desire to get better at stuff), and purpose (our desire to make a difference) come into play.

Purpose is kind of the kicker here. We all want to make the world a better place. Maybe the thing standing in the way of us making a better world is just the outdated way we think about motivation. How about that carrot for thought?

"If we start treating people like people, and not assuming that they're simply horses ... if we get past this kind of ideology of carrots and sticks and look at the science, I think we can actually ... make our world just a little bit better."

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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