Motivating People: How Can We Do It?

DRiVE Daniel PinkIn my career as a minister, college professor, and college dean, I have often run into the difficulty of motivating people. Sometimes I am able to recognize that I am just trying to get them to do what I want them to do, but on my better days, I sincerely believe that I need to motivate them to do things that are in their own best interests.

The Dean at a sister college recently pointed me to a fascinating book by Daniel Pink called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink is an expert in motivational theory, and area of research of which I had little awareness. Let me summarize a couple of main ideas from the book.

Initially, Pink looks at the history of motivation, and divides the earlier era into two categories. First is what he calls Motivation 1.0, which includes all the biological or environmental motivators: hunger, thirst, need for shelter/clothing, etc. These are ongoing and normal, and while they can be controlled, exaggerated, or misused, they are part of the way we are wired. We are motivated in these ways whether we like it or not.

Second is what Pink calls Motivation 2.0. This is motivation by “extrinsic” factors, also known as the “carrot/stick” or “reward/punishment” method. Pink claims that almost all business models based from the early twentieth century until now have this at the core of the way employees are motivated. If you are late for work, you get fired (stick). If you exceed your quota, you get a bonus (carrot). This type of motivation also underlies most of the American educational system, especially as it is related to grades. The only real change has been a shift from an emphasis upon the stick (dire threats) to the carrot (rewards). This is seen in the trivialization of school awards from kindergarten on, the child who can paper her room with certificates of excellence when in reality she is a mediocre and indifferent student. Pink’s analysis is that such rewards usually have a positive short-term effect, but rarely make a difference in the long run.

Third is what Pink calls Motivation 3.0, “intrinsic” motivation. This is the appeal to a person’s desire to accomplish a challenging but doable task, and the satisfaction the person takes from doing it. This means that the nature of the work itself is a motivation. In this, Pink points out the value of achieving “flow” in a task. This is “Goldilocks” point, not too difficult, but also not too easy. This is when “flow” comes, when a person is doing something he enjoys and believes he can accomplish. There is no flow if the task is overwhelming or if the challenge is too puny. This Motivation 3.0 is where we need to focus, according to Pink.

I am still processing all of this in terms of motivating faculty members, and in helping them to motivate students in their classes. I also see many applications in ministry, in church situations where there is a great need for volunteer participation. How do we motivate volunteers? Not by threats of punishment and probably not be promises of reward. They must find motivation intrinsically, and leaders must find ways to tap those inner urges. For example, most people want to serve and do so in a meaningful way. The task of the church leader is to channel that already present motivation into an area that is both fulfilling for the person and productive for the congregation.

Interesting stuff.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College