Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We don't lack for information. We lack for incentives




Some food for thought from the February 2010 issue of Wired:
"…the paradox of behavior change: We know what we are supposed to do, but we find all sorts of reasons not to do it. As a result, more than 85 percent of Americans don't eat enough fruit and vegetables, two-thirds are overweight - and 20 percent continue to smoke cigarettes. We don't lack for information. We lack for incentives."
With the term "incentive", we usually mean some kind of reward for a specific behavior that is designed to encourage that behavior. As Rick Mans pointed out in a comment to this post, extrinsic rewards (sticks & carrots) are often not enough to motivate us to change. He pointed me to the interview below with Dan Pink where Dan talks about Motivation 3.0. Well worth watching and listening to.



We could also choose to use a broader definition of the term "incentive", such as this definition that defines it as "a positive motivational influence". I think that the author of the Wired article cited above was thinking of the term more in this way. Then an incentive would be any cognitive factor that has an effect on our behavior, even intrinsic motivations such as the satisfaction that we can get from simply completing a task, or learning something new. I found this paper by David Beswick about intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation worth a read:
Most people will find at least some satisfaction in simply doing the work. They might say, for example, that they found it "interesting". For most people there is also some satisfaction in rewards which are contingent upon performance in the task. The balance of these intrinsic and extrinsic sources of satisfaction varies from one person to another and between different situations...
Let's just conclude that every situation is different, and requires some kind of mix between intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation.