The New Model of Motivation, Part 3

(This series of posts is based on journalist and author Dan Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” available here. Here is Part 3.)

Why does the ‘Carrot and Stick’ model not work? Here are the remaining 4 reasons.

4) They can crowd out good behavior.

Should blood donors be paid for giving blood? Two Swedish economists sought to find the answer.

In their experiment, they found 153 women interested in giving blood, then divided them into 3 groups:
1st group: They told the women that if they gave blood, they would receive no compensation.
2nd group: They told the women that if they gave blood, they’d each receive 50 Swedish kronor (around 7$).
3rd group: The told the women that if they gave blood, they’d each receive 50 Swedish kronor with an immediate option to donate the amount to a children’s cancer charity.

Results:
1st group: 52% of them agreed to donate blood
2nd group: 30% of them agreed to donate blood
3rd group: 53% of them agreed to donate blood

The Motivation 2.0 model suggests that a reward (in this case, the 50 Swedish kronor) would increase the number of women willing to donate the blood; however, the results show that the reward had the exact opposite effect.

Why is this?

It’s because the monetary incentive tainted the act and “crowded out” the intrinsic desire to do something good, Pink explains (48). People donate blood because they want to do good (i.e. they are motivated by the intrinsic desire to do so); it’s a positive contribution to society.

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

When you insert a reward into the equation, people feel tied to the reward; they feel as if they are doing the action because of the reward and not because of their intrinsic desire to do so.
In other words, you are changing the reason for which they are doing the action, i.e. the source of motivation.

The Dark(er) side

Up until this point, we’ve seen how Motivation 2.0 rewards can bring less of the things you want. But they can also bring more of what you don’t want.

5) They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.

Goals are useful; they help us tune out distractions, make us try harder, work longer and achieve more.

Like all extrinsic motivators, goals narrow our focus.

Photo by Liam Simpson on Unsplash

But narrowed focus isn’t always beneficial. In situations where meeting goals is paramount (especially short-term goals that deliver a big payoff), our focus can be narrowed to the point that we sometimes fail to see the broader dimensions of our behavior (Pink 50). In other words, we may forfeit our obligation to behave ethically as a means of reaching the goal.

Plenty of evidence is available to show this is true.

For example, business owners impose sales quota on their staff which often makes them more likely to act selfishly to achieve their goal, auto repair staff often overcharge customers for things they don’t need, big car manufacturers will often release a new line of cars by a certain date, omitting safety checks and thereby selling dangerous cars to customers, etc.

(*Note: this is NOT to say that all goals and extrinsic rewards are bad and should be avoided, but simply that they should be used with caution; they may carry along with them unintended consequences.)

6) They can become addictive.

Interestingly, researchers have found that “if-then” motivators are very similar to addictive drugs in their effects.

Russian economist Anton Suvorov has studied this subject, which he calls the ‘principal-agent theory’. In this model, the principal is the motivator and the agent is the motivatee; according to this scheme, the principal tries to get the agent to do what he/she wants, while the agent balances his/her own interests with whatever the principal is offering (Pink 54).

Basically, he has found that “Rewards are addictive in that once offered, a contingent reward makes an agent expect it whenever a similar task is faced, which in turn compels the principal to use rewards over and over again.” (qtd. in Pink 55). Rewards are often effective at first, but quickly lose their effectiveness as the demand for reward grows exponentially.

In addition, the similarity between extrinsic rewards and addiction have been shown neurologically; in a study done by neuroscientist Brian Knutson, the working mechanism of most addictive drugs was shown to be very similar to the neurological mechanism of extrinsic rewards (Pink 55).

The mechanism runs like this: dopamine is sent to the nucleus accumbens, the feeling dissipates, then another dose is demanded; So, extrinsic rewards can be addictive in the same way drugs are; and just like a drug user will need more and more substance for the same high, in the case of employees more and more rewards will be needed for the same amount of motivation.

Rewards can also alter decision-making; Knutson has found that activation in the nucleus accumbens seems to predict both risky choices and risk-seeking mistakes (qtd. in Pink 55).

Perhaps this can explain why casinos are so popular…

7) They can foster short-term thinking.

Did you notice any similarities in the 2 previous examples mentioned – unethical behavior and addictive behavior?

They’re both focused on the short-term; cheaters want the quick win regardless of the lasting consequences, while addicts want the quick fix regardless of the eventual harm that it may cause them. In this sense, rewards can also limit the depth of our thinking (Pink 56).

Yet the harmful effects of rewards can be found even if cases where shortcuts and addiction aren’t involved.

Take publicly held companies for example. Many times, you’ll find an almost obsessive fixation on quarterly results; all employees are completely focused on hitting the proper performance marks for the quarter. In a way, this makes sense, considering that the company’s health and success depend on their stock market performance, which can change at any time.

However, researchers have found that near-sighted companies pay the price for it; companies focused on the short-term growth rates have significantly lower long-term growth rates than companies that focus beyond quarterly results (one reason for this is that the former invest less in research and development) (qtd. in Pink 57). The evidence shows that short-term thinking often comes at the detriment of long-term health.

I know, I know. It’s a lot to think about…

More coming soon!


References

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

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