Tuesday 27 March 2018

Why we do what we do

I am currently reading Why we do what we do  by Edward Deci, and finding it fascinating. 

One of the first issues that really caught my attention was his examination of the use of money as a motivator. It is such a truism, but according to Deci we need to be very careful here, as it can undermine intrinsic motivation, changing a chosen task into a chore, and leading to a risk of alienation. He describes, for example, an experiment in which students are given puzzles to solve. Some are asked to do it for the fun of it; others are paid. At the breaks, those paid, put the puzzles down and do something else; those doing it for fun, continue to play with it.  Which would we prefer in our teams?...

His central thesis is that intrinsic motivation is both more effective and healthier than extrinsic motivation. And to encourage (or at least not destroy) intrinsic motivation, Autonomy is critical. Perceived competence is also critical.

He notes the failure of centralised bureaucratic systems (eg Soviet, Chinese) that undermine both, and lead to disengaged people doing work they believe to be meaningless with a deadening effect both on productivity and on their own well-being.

Competition is interesting: if it’s win - lose, that is problematic; but if it is perceived as a chance to test yourself against a challenging standard, it can be very positive.

Feedback: Praise is also interesting: non-controlling praise works; controlling praise (ie praise motivated by a desire to attain specific future behaviours) undermines intrinsic motivation; ambiguous praise (ie not clear if controlling or not) is likely not to work for women (who typically interpret it as controlling - conditioned to seek praise as a reward?) and is likely to work for men (interpret it as appropriate recognition for their efforts - conditioned to think of themselves as entitled to recognition?)

Negative feedback: can be disastrous: as it is often both controlling and undermining of competence!

With all of rewards, limits and feedback (both positive and negative) it’s all about how you do it. So inviting self-evaluation is by far the best approach. Deci acknowledges that these are necessary but thinks that we pay too little attention to the risks, and too frequently address the needs in ways that are severely counter-productive.

People need to understand the instrumentalities; how to behave in order to achieve desired outcomes. The linkage between their behaviour and those outcomes - and feeling competent at those instruments, in a way supportive of their autonomy and nurturing of their competence.... is likely to be valuable.  Self-critical feedback (that is accurate) is of course a competent thing to undertake.

So loads to think about, and I have not even finished the book yet.  But it does raise questions over the influencing skills model I use, for example, about which I need to think more.

And I may well write further about this one, once I have finished it.

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