The Gravity of Intrinsic Motivation

by Mike Shipulski

The Gravity of Intrinsic MotivationWork can be exceptionally profitable, work can dovetail perfectly with strategy, and work can make perfect business sense. Though these attributes seem powerful, they’re insufficient for work to carry the day. But there’s a far more powerful force out there, a force that virtually guarantees that work will take on a life of it’s own, that work will go viral. That force? Intrinsic motivation.

Work must be meaningful. The team, or you, must have a personal reason, a vested reason, an intrinsic reason why the work should happen. Otherwise, it’s a crap shoot. Otherwise, it takes massive effort and powerful control mechanisms to roll work up hill. What a waste. The energy spent on pushing should be spent on the work. Imagine if pushing energy was converted to advancing-the-work energy.

With intrinsic motivation, work accelerates down hill. Intrinsic motivation is the gravity that pull on work, builds momentum, and steam-rolls those in the way. (Although intrinsic motivation has been known to clear the way of those who can help.) Intrinsic motivation flows work over and around rocks, tirelessly smooths sharp edges, and uproots sticks-in-the mud. (You know who I’m talking about.)

Do you and your work have intrinsic motivation? I certainly hope so. How do you tell? Here’s how:

Question: Why do you want this work to happen?

Answers – missing intrinsic motivation:

  • Because my boss told me to do it.
  • I don’t really care if the work happens or not.
  • I’m just here for the free doughnuts.

Answers – with intrinsic motivation:

  • Because it’s important to me.
  • Because it will benefit my kids.
  • That’s a stupid question. You don’t know? I’m glad you’re not on the team. Get out of my way.

Intrinsic motivation makes a big difference, it changes the game. It’s like the difference between pushing against gravity and rolling down hill with a tail wind. You should know if you have it. If you don’t you should be ready to push like hell for a long time.

Acid test — does your work cause you to pole vault out of bed? If not, find new work.

For some inspiration, here’s a video link — Indiana Jones and the boulder of intrinsic motivation.

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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributor of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

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  1. If you haven’t already read it, Mike, check out Dan Pink’s newest book, DRIVE. It makes a very compelling case for intrinsic motivation.

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