18 June 2010

Deciphering the cause of human motivation

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Anand Giridharadas, columnist at the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, is at it again in his usual delightful way. This time he reflects on the nature of human motivation.

“Call it, perhaps, the great showdown over the nature of human motivation.

One camp regards our species as Homo Incentivus. It conceives of us as shrewd responders to carrots and sticks, hooked on a diet of incentives and external rewards. This camp bristles at the thought that we do things just because we love them or believe they are right. […]

Which idea reflects our cultural moment? Are we cool, rational optimizers or suckers for the balm of purpose?

In a recent book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink, who wrote speeches for Al Gore when he was the U.S. vice president, attacks the incentive-based vision of humans. On his telling, Motivation 1.0 came naturally: It was biological survival, the escaping from lions and tigers. Then we developed Motivation 2.0, which is the use of incentives — external penalties and rewards. But in our attempt to induce useful behavior, we may actually have drained the intrinsic pleasure from it, Mr. Pink contends.”

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