Last week I briefly showed how if-then rewards are more likely to cause a search for loopholes than actual results. Today I want to explore a second idea from Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us;” that relying solely on extrinsic motivation doesn’t promote the kind of business/thinking that China needs to become a world leader.
Firstly, it is important to understand another concept from the book, which Pink calls “motivation 2.0,” this is his name for the carrot and stick approach to leadership. External rewards can give people the incentives they need to act in a certain way, but it doesn’t fully appreciate the complexity of human choices (“motivation 2.0” can be anything from lower power prices at night to encourage more environmentally friendly power consumption all the way to demolishing homes and forcing abortions to comply with the One-Child policy).
China, in many ways, has mastered “motivation 2.0.” Pink even points out that “motivation 2.0” has been shown effective when work relies on repeating simple physical tasks, which for the past 30 years has made China’s economy boom.
Acting out of interests beyond your own immediate reward is what Pink labels “motivation 3.0.” As he points out in his book, “motivation 3.0” isn’t the luxury of developed nations alone, but is switched on once people have met their basic needs.
For the time being, individuals have become too focused on extrinsic rewards to allow for the power of intrinsic motivation. This is partially the result of China’s limited social security system, which forces families to pay largely out of pocket for medical treatment. This then encourages families to push their children into whatever field is the highest paying (or most stable), so that they can act as a sort of insurance for the parents in old age.
This however is starting to change with China’s younger generation that has seen a quality of life unimaginable to their grandparents and is what I believe is largely responsible for China’s current search for a sense of purpose. While evidence of this has been seen already in China’s growing religious groups, companies should also take advantage of this new direction to build a creative economy.
As Pink points out, intrinsic motivation is what fuels companies that rely on creative work, which is a direction that China wants to move in to increase GDP and limit environmental problems. It also creates a workforce that feels more satisfied with their accomplishments (based on studies from the book). However, the need for purpose alone is insufficient; “motivation 3.0” also requires work that allows for mastery, and grants autonomy.
For the time being, Chinese education is designed to destroy these two innate tendencies. Words like “self-guided” and “open-ended” are still completely absent from most Chinese schools (I would guess that less than 5% of Chinese schools are adapting “new” methodology).
Additionally, Chinese companies are wary of these traits as well. The prevailing attitude in the hospital and the schools I’ve worked in has been to always, always, always play it safe. This generally means avoiding any kind of endeavor where failure is even a remote possibility.
For teachers it means strictly following the syllabus, even if many of the activities are useless. Schools also rarely give constructive feedback for teachers, which would aid mastery. At the hospital this same attitude means that doctors only begin research projects handed down from their directors, which limits their enthusiasm for work that could otherwise be enjoyable (the bonuses they receive for publishing also diminishes the intrinsic value of these projects).
For China to reach the next level of development, it needs to move beyond factory work. The Party seems to assume that this advancement simply happens after the country reaches a certain GDP, instead they should be looking to promote people’s innate qualities to drive the economy to the next level.