Intrinsic Motivation And Its Influence On Performance, Creativity, And Learning

Dan Rogers
Intrinsic Motivation And Its Influence On Performance, Creativity, And Learning

Ever since getting my first BMX – aged about five – I’ve adored cycling. The freedom, countryside, wind in my hair (less these days); I can’t get enough of it. However if you asked me what my least favourite job – ever – was, my 3 year stint as a paperboy in suburban London would be close to the top of the list. A job that basically comprises of 90% cycling – I hated it.

Why is it I could love cycling, but hate doing it as a job? One theory is intrinsic motivation.

Doing something because you want to do it, e.g. brewing your own beer, is an intrinsic motivation. Doing something because someone else is persuading you to do it, e.g. paying you to sanitise brewing equipment, is an extrinsic motivation.

Intuitively most of us know we perform the best at tasks we enjoy and want to do. For instance I sucked at many subjects at school – and no level of incentives, threats, or persuasion was going to materially change that. Some incentives brought me up to a baseline (e.g. scraped a pass), but they were never going to make me excel at a subject I didn’t enjoy or have an aptitude for. I excelled at computing, because I loved technology, had a knack for it, and voluntarily spent most of my time on the computer. I was intrinsically motivated to study computing and extrinsically motivated to study French (which I still suck at).

This pattern of behaviour – that intrinsic factors can motivate you whilst extrinsic factors just moderate you between dissatisfied and baseline – was first formally studied and articulated in Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory. According to Herzberg, extrinsic factors (the left of the below graph) – such as pay, or your manager – have a limited capacity to motivate you but a high capacity to demotivate you. Intrinsic factors (the right of the below graph) – such as the type of work you do, or how much personal advancement you receive from your job – are those that have a high capacity to motivate you.


Two Factor Theory - Intrinsic Motivation

So – what about my cycling conundrum? Numerous studies since Herzberg have expanded on his theories of intrinsic motivation. One example – Self Determination Theory – showed that introducing external motivations (e.g. paying me to do a paper round) actually reduces your intrinsic motivation to complete a task (e.g. going for a bike ride). Intrinsic motivation has also shown to;

At Peakon we understand the importance of modelling intrinsic factors in our analysis, have statistically proven that intrinsic factors have a higher correlation to performance than extrinsic factors, and that companies that excel at maximising intrinsic motivation consistently outperform their peers.

If you’d like to know how intrinsically motivated your employees are, get in touch!