If you’re reading this blog, you probably love reading the latest and brightest business books out there on motivation like I do.
With 70% of his body covered in third-degree burns from a magnesium flare explosion, 18-year old Israeli Dan Ariely embarked on a three-year journey of recuperation.
During this remarkably painful period, he began to reflect on “what it is about life that motivates people and causes us to behave as we do.”
“Predictably Irrational” is his extraordinary account of bravery and fear, healing and agony, separation and love. Ariely eloquently takes us through his recovery and how it shaped his thinking which ultimately led him to become one of the world’s preeminent thinkers in behavioral economics.
Ariely explores the premise that “individuals make repeated mistakes—without being able to learn much from their experiences.” Behavioral economics (judgment and decision making) draws on aspects of both psychology and standard economics where the idea of “rationality” evolved.
What can be learned from his book? The fact that we all make mistakes gives us opportunities to improve the way we make decisions. We can achieve what we desire by being open to and seeking out the “tools, methods, and policies that can help all of us make better decisions.”
Dungy’s strategy shifted his team’s behaviors until their performances were routine. He wanted his team to learn a few key moves and get them right every time. Dungy did it by getting his team to recognize their existing habits and accept new routines.
Today, his approach is widely used throughout the league and throughout sports.
Duhigg describes the “Habit Loop” where triggers set off routine behaviors which are reinforced with rewards. Sounds a bit like a rat in a maze, but the point is we can take charge of how we function at home or in business.
“Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work,” says Duhigg. Good news for those of us who want to lose weight, quit smoking, be more productive or put a ding in the universe.
He explores the characteristics of highly creative people by studying and researching their collaboration, networking, negotiation, leadership and influence habits.
Givers tend to work in ways that contribute to their own success—and the success of those around them. “Takers” (those who take more than they give) work more independently and are not as concerned about their colleagues’ success. And finally, “matchers”—those who give only as much as they are given.
Givers recognize that anyone can develop talent if motivation is present. Research shows that people who have “grit” (passion and perseverance toward long-term goals), by virtue of their interest, focus and drive—achieve higher performance.
Then there are the “takers.” Takers want to be the smartest people in the room. Sometimes they are. But they’re not likely to be receptive to expertise from others, especially if it challenges their own beliefs. (How smart is that?) Ultimately, this isn’t in the best interest of an organization as in the case of Ken Lay and the Enron debacle.
In author Barry Schwartz’s words, “it’s more like going to your hair stylist. You have to let the professional know what you want out of each visit.” When did this all change? When did patients get the autonomy to make choices about their healthcare? Are you okay with that? This is the paradox of choice.
Schwartz notes that choice is “essential to autonomy, [and] is absolutely fundamental to well-being.” As the number of choices available to us continues to increase, he believes the autonomy and liberation this brings are powerful and positive. However, he cautions that as the “number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects begin to appear.”
So what do we do about choice? In his last chapter, Schwartz adeptly summarizes ideas on how to tackle the psychological distress of too many choices with 11 steps—which, oddly enough, feels like more choices.
For centuries, companies have operated as non-profit or profit maximizers. However, there’s a slow shift towards the open-source or social-benefit principle—meaning that a company is animated by a public purpose or mission.
With jobs becoming “more complex, more interesting, and more self-directed,” and “less routine and other-directed,” the rules for motivating a workforce has changed as well.
Having autonomy, mastery and purpose is expected by today’s workers. Traditional cash incentives (external motivators) can have a negative impact on overall performance, whereas an appeal to a more heuristic path to motivation can have surprising results.
It’s interesting to keep in mind what Deci says about motivation—it’s “not something that gets done to people – rather it’s something that people do.”
The challenge is figuring out how to find the right balance of environment, resources and motivators to keep people happy, productive and engaged at work.