By: An Angry Old Man

During this week a lot of students have discussed with me that money is a great motivator.  It reminded me of research that I had read.

The research was with college students who were given tasks to do.  If you did okay on the tasks you would get a small reward, good on the tasks a medium reward and then great on the tasks a great reward. (video)

What the researchers found out is that this type of motivation worked well for physical tasks.  So, if you were asking me to shovel the driveway or unload a truck, this type of reward system worked well.  However, when cognitive tasks were brought into play, this reward system did not work.  The people offered the biggest rewards did not get the best results.   Thinking about the money seemed to get in the way of the person’s performance.

Now, that is not to say money is not important.  What is true is that you must pay people enough so that they are not worried about the money and they can focus on the task at hand.  So, if money is not a motivator, what is?

There seems to be three things that drive motivation once you take money off the table.  Autonomy, purpose and mastery.

In my own home I have seen mastery at work.  My son practices his guitar for hours without any compensation.  He is determined to become a better player and has spent endless hours working on mastering the guitar.  Why?  Because it is fun and because he could tell he was getting better.

Autonomy is another motivator which I have seen work in the school house.  During the year, a teacher would allow students to work on a project with the only criteria that the project would help make the world a better place. They would present the project at a school wide fair.  What I noticed at the fair is that there were some amazing projects which were developed by students who did not usually shine in school.  When given the choice to work on a subject that truly interested them, they were able to produce great products.

Lastly is purpose.  People generally want to make a bigger contribution to the world than making money.  People are motivated by companies that have a philosophy that uses their products or profits to a greater good.  My attraction to teaching is that every day we get a chance to make a difference is some person’s life.

Money is a motivator in the sense that you must make it a non-issue.  Once you have accomplished that mastery, autonomy and purpose take over.

As always, I appreciate your feedback.

Originally posted here:

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