Surprising Science on Motivation

March 29, 2010 at 16:58 Leave a comment

One of my all time favorite TED Talks is the one by Dan Pink, in which he talks about motivation and incentives. Based on scientific testing it’s obvious, that after people make enough money to satisfy basic (by welfare state standards) needs they need something other than money to motivate them to perform their best. Money actually makes people to perform worse. (Suggest you listen the Talk! It also presents the “Candle Problem”, a classical example of functional fixedness.)

So to receive extraordinary results, we need fresh methods. Dan Pink lists these three qualities of intrinsic motivation the ones needed to create a efficient, inspiring and engaging work place:

  • autonomy (the urge to direct our lives)
  • mastery (the desire to became better and better in what you do)
  • purpose (the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves)

As an occupational therapist, mastery as a term is close to flow experience where the skills are just adequate to perform a task that is a bit tricky but still manageable so it engages the attention and motivates to solve it. Purpose is also in the center of occupational therapy: we work with our clients to able them to participate in their meaningful tasks so it goes without saying that our job needs to be meaningful as well. Of course, it’s a different thing is it. I believe that most of the time the work of an occupational therapist still is quite rewarding since we’re working with people with limitations and help them overcome them. But, one may always disagree and the lives are forever changing.

Our work is also pretty independent, so at least some degree of autonomy is achieved. Still, to empower people to act and perform on their full potential requires constant evaluation and development. That’s just what I’m trying to learn to do… Bit by bit, mastering my own task a leader. By the way, the autonomy of the job is a quality I highly respect: still it’s one that sometimes exhausts or overwhelms. It’s not easy to always be so organized, sometimes it’s wonderful to just get to told what to do!

Pink continues: “Management is great, if you want compliance. If you want engagement, self direction works better.” This is something to deeply consider as a head of a unit. How to able enough freedom to let people do what they do best the way they would do it in a clinical and strictly defined environment (a hospital)? There’s also a careful balance between equality and autonomy. Some people are willing or capable to work more autonomously than others.

(By the way, functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that limits the person to using an object only in the way it’s traditionally used (according to Wikipedia). That said the creativeness needed in our profession is an everyday struggle against functional fixedness. Creativeness is a key element of the therapy when figuring out the best way to perform tasks that have been complicated by different disabilities in a way that is acceptable for the client. I dare doubt, that occupational therapists would have any problems solving The Candle Problem… ;-))


Entry filed under: leadership, Occupational Therapy. Tags: , .

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