Extrinsic MotivatorsDo extrinsic motivators actually do more damage than good? In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink gives one a fabulous example of the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.

There was a study done at a daycare where some parents were chronically late in picking up their children. The management of the daycare posted a sign one day one the door:

Do to the high volume of parents who have been collecting their children after the scheduled pickup at 4PM, the daycare will be implementing a new policy going forward. There will be a fee for every 10 minutes that a child is picked up after 4:10PM. This fee will be accrue throughout the month and will be charged at the end of the month along with regularly monthly fee. Thank you. -The Management

The daycare expected the numbers of children being picked up late to decrease. However, exactly the opposite happened. Why? The “fee” imposed for late pickups was an extrinsic motivator for the parents.

Extrinsic motivation, meaning external or outside of yourself, is something that is frequently used within society throughout our lives. These are motivators that move us to do something based on an external, often highly regarded outcome. Intrinsic motivation is based on the drive within ourselves to achieve something.

While there are always some gray areas, in the case of the daycare, most parents were driven intrinsically by their desire to respect the time of the teachers. They wanted to maintain the relationship they had with their children’s caregivers, thus trying to be on time for pickups as much as possible. When the daycare changed their policy and enacted a fee for late pickups, that intrinsic motivator ceased to be the driving force. Suddenly, the parents could “buy time.” Their inward drive was replaced with the consequences of an extrinsic motivator, causing them to care less than before.

In Pink’s book, Drive, he deduces that “most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach.”  He contends that the secret to high performance and satisfaction-at work, home and in learning environments “is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

Sometimes we have the internal desire to achieve a certain outcome yet we let external motivators get in the way of why we really wanted to achieve that outcome in the first place. Think of some of the areas this applies in your life and imagine what you could do if you became more conscious of your own internal motivators.


Follow Daniel Pink on Twitter: @DanielPink

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