Monday, April 26, 2010

Bad Motivation to Do Good

Does the type of motivation used matter if the end product is still good?

Coca Cola, 11.5 oz.My colleague and I often walk to the cafeteria for lunch. It is a half mile little jaunt that is a relaxing part of my day when the wind isn't too cold. On the way back to our office, I noticed a plastic coke bottle lying on the side of the road. Immediately, my mind focused on the cap and I envisioned three more points being added to MyCokeRewards balance. I reached down and picked up the bottle. My colleague noticed this and said, "That was good of you." I didn't know what to say. I wasn't being a responsible citizen trying to do his part to clean up – I was scoring points. Granted, I wasn't about to take the cap off and throw the bottle back to the ground. Once retrieved, I carried the bottle to a recycling bin set inside the building. 

The motivation to retrieve the bottle had been completely for my own personal gain. The thought of the extra points were an extrinsic reward and were an easy win if I just picked up the bottle. Does the type of motivation used matter if the end product is still good? I still recycled the bottle. 

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsI think, while trying to score points may have helped me clean up some trash along the roadside, it would be a poor method to motivate other people to clean up trash. According to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (my review), applying an extrinsic reward to the task would immediately label the task as unpleasant and not desirable. He used an example of paying your child as a means to motivate them to take out the trash. The payment conveys that the task is undesirable and furthermore, over time the reward will have to be increased to achieve the same result. 

The flip side is interesting as well. Fines for littering in California are horrendous and are posted on all the roadways, but people still litter. I do not litter because of the fear of paying a fine. I choose not to litter because I am intrinsically motivated to maintain a clean roadway. The State of Idaho has very clean roadways and many residents know that, "Idaho's to great a place to litter." The fine for littering is not widely posted either. Instead, signs for the volunteer Adopt-A-Highway program and their respective groups are posted every few miles. I was part of a group which, twice a year, cleaned up the trash on both sides of a two mile stretch of remote highway. Maybe I choose not to litter because I picked up so much of it.

Reflecting on my actions and the impulse to act as I carried the bottle to the recycling bin I began to wonder, What if it had been a Pepsi bottle instead? Would I have walked right on by? Maybe. But at least from now on I have decided that tomorrow it will not be the case.

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