The New Model of Motivation, Part 4

(This series of posts is based on journalist and author Dan Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” available here.)

We’ve talked before about a very interesting psychological model called the ‘Self-Determination Theory’, first proposed by Edward Deci and Ryan Richard.

This theory is based on the basic assumption that there are universal human needs, three innate psychological needs: autonomy, competence (AKA mastery) and relatedness. When those needs are being met, we’re motivated, productive and happy. When they aren’t being met, we lack motivation, we aren’t productive and we aren’t happy.

Deci and Ryan propose that instead of using rewards as a means of motivation, we should focus on creating environments for these needs to flourish.

But before we get into that, Pink says, some things need to be explained.

A bit of history

If you’ve worked in a business environment before (or if you were listening in your management class in college), you’ve probably heard of professor Douglas McGregor’s “X-Y” management theory. When he first talked about his theory 60 years ago, his ideas were controversial. He was saying that business failure/malfunction is not due to the quality or quantity of the execution per se, but because of the faulty assumptions these companies held about human behavior.

The two dominant ways of thinking about human behavior were represented by single letters: X and Y.

Theory X assumes that workers fundamentally dislike work and that they would avoid it if they could. As a result, “most people must be coerced, controlled, directed and threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives” (qtd. in Pink 76).

Theory Y, on the other hand (the one McGregor proposed), assumed that taking an interest in work is natural, that creativity and ingenuity are widely distributed in the population and that under the proper conditions, people will accept and even seek responsibility (Pink 76).

One main difference between the two is that Theory X is limited whereas Theory Y isn’t, McGregor explained. Theory X is limited because its fundamental beliefs about workers limit the workers themselves; similar to a self-fulfilled prophecy, if you believe that your employees are mediocre (as Theory X posits), they will most likely deliver mediocre results. Conversely, Theory Y does not carry such limitations; employees have the potential to achieve whatever is in their power to do.

The ‘Carrot and Stick’ model of motivation (i.e. Motivation 2.0) depends on and encourages what Pink calls ‘Type X’ behavior; it’s concerned with extrinsic desires and external rewards. The upgraded model (Motivation 3.0) depends on and encourages what Pink calls ‘Type I’ behavior; it’s concerned with intrinsic desires and intrinsic rewards (i.e. the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself).

*Note: This distinction is not meant to establish that everyone is either completely Type X or completely Type Y; it’s merely to say that people tend to display more behavior of one type than the other on average.

Type I behavior: interesting things to know

Here are some important things to know about Type I behavior before we move on:

Type I behavior is made, not born

Because Type I behavior arises from universal human needs, anyone can develop Type I behavior. Once those needs are recognized and practices are implemented to meet them, motivation and performance increase.

Type I’s almost always outperform Type X’s in the long run

As discussed in the last post, Type X behavior is inherently fixed on the short-term. Although Type X’s may have an increase in performance over Type I’s in the short-term, steady and consistent long-term performance will always outlast short-term results.

Not to mention that this type of behavior is difficult to sustain; it’s often taxing to the individual and does not assist in developing mastery.

Type I behavior does not disdain money or recognition

When comparing Type X and Type I, it’s easy to assume that because Type X is often associated with the pursuit of money and recognition, it must mean that Type I’s don’t care about money or recognition because they’re only focused on the intrinsic motivation of their tasks.

But this is inaccurate; Type I’s do care about money and recognition, but in a different way. Of course, Type I’s need basic compensation (i.e. an adequate base pay/salary) as does everyone, but after that point, money and recognition are NOT primary motivators; they take a back seat to intrinsic rewards.

For Type X’s, money and recognition are goals in themselves; they guide and dictate everything Type X’s do, say and ask for. On the other hand, Type I’s do not seek recognition or money as goals in themselves, but rather are motivated by the intrinsic enjoyment of their work, and view money and recognition as positive by-products of it.

Type I behavior is a renewable resource

To use an environmental science analogy, Type X is coal and Type I is solar power.

For many years, coal has been the cheapest, easiest and most efficient energy source. However, burning coal pollutes the air, releases greenhouse gases and most importantly, its resources are limited. Similarly, behavior focused on extrinsic rewards has unpleasant side effects, is limited in what it can achieve and costs more (to the individual and the company) in the long run.

On the other hand, Type I is like solar power in that it draws on resources that aren’t limited (i.e. the Sun – intrinsic motivation), it is inexpensive (i.e. not taxing on the individual) and has very few negative effects, if any.

Type I behavior promotes greater physical and mental well-being.

According to SDT researchers, “people oriented toward autonomy and intrinsic motivation have higher self-esteem, better interpersonal relationships, and greater general well-being than those who are extrinsically motivated. By contrast, people whose core aspirations are Type X validations such as money, fame or beauty tend to have poorer psychological health.” (Pink 80)

In the next posts, we will focus on the three fundamental elements at the core of Type I behavior: autonomy, mastery, and relatedness. Don’t miss it!



Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Canongate, 2010.


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