July 14, 2014
In the article, The Secret of Effective Motivation published by The New York Times on July 6, 2014, Amy Wrzesniewski, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College classify motivation in two categories: internal and instrumental. They give the example of a scientist that conducts research just to find facts as internal motivation, while a scientist that conducts research to achieve fame and financial success as instrumental motivation. They also recognize that often people have both internal and instrumental motivations for doing what they do. They ask the question: “What mixed motives-internal or instrumental, or both – is most conductive to success?”
To answer the question, the authors analyzed data from 11,320 cadets at the West Point Military Academy who had been rated on their motives for joining the Academy, such as to be a good leader (internal) or to have a better job later in life (instrumental.) They found that: “the stronger their internal reasons were to attend West Point, the more likely cadets were to graduate and become commissioned officers.”
The authors believe that: “Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also –counterintuitive though it may seem-the financial success.”
Finding meaning in the work we do is an excellent motivator for success. Stephen Mills, blogger of the Rat Race Trap says that: “One of the best ways to find some personal meaning and happiness in your job is to use it as an opportunity to improve yourself. Personal growth is one of the best ways to do this, for at least one person – you. You can make your work the education and practice ground for creating a better you.”
One can also apply the reasoning and findings of the study to the practice of ethics. Why do people do “the right thing?” What is the true motivation? Could it be because of potential enhanced reputation and other benefits and does it matter?
Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is better than not doing anything at all. For instance, if a wealthy person decides to donate one million dollars to the local hospital so that he (or she) will be honored at a dinner party, that is sad. However, what really matters is that people are going to benefit from the donation.
Ideally, we would hope to do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do.
As author Keven Heath once said:
“A true hero is not someone who thinks about doing what is right, but one that simply does what is right without thinking!”