04 August 2010

Good motivation

Occasional ranter, Patrick Dunn, wrote about good motivation being intrinsic.
Here's my two cents.

I agree, I don’t see what’s so surprising about it, but sigh...we live in a era, and a country in which the rhetoric of creativity and innovation is a dominant discourse, but in fact is only that, a discourse with a lot of momentum. I see things differently, in part because I was a working artist for many years, and in part because I’ve jobbed to make ends meet. In other words, I developed early on a rather sober awareness of the difference between doing what you love and what you have to.

In my estimation, the vast majority of working people engage in repetitive, fairly uninteresting tasks. Work is simply work, a way to pay the bills and go on vacation. In most organizations, only a handful of employees get to be creative and innovative. And most working people say their work environment (e.g. The affective stuff), not the work itself, is the most important aspect of job satisfaction.

Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projection for job growth through 2018 counters the discourse. They report that the numerical growth will be in low to mid-skilled positions, for example, office clerks, home health aids, carpenters, and food prep workers, to name a few. (See table 2 www.bls.gov/oco/oco2003.htm)

One the one hand, the solutions (to being motivated) are an internal, personal process, a personal growth issue, if you will, and one that only the privileged classes get to pursue. On the other, I can share some success in a faculty development program I lead that echos what you’ve pointed out. We provided modest stipends ($2k-1k, and towards the end, no stipend) to faculty to redesign their courses. Motivation was by and large intrinsic, even for those who felt external pressures. But we also created and nurtured a kind of cool-factor, over the 5 years in which we were in operation. Becoming one of our faculty fellows became prestigious. I should also add that those 100+ instructors who applied or were recommended, belong to the estimated 10% of instructors in higher ed, who are early/mid early adopters of innovation, and for whom being a good teacher is important. In other words, they were already intrinsically motivated. The program is documented here http://pict.sdsu.edu/ and here http://pict.sdsu.edu/impact/index.html.

In a completely other context, the virtual world Second Life, I also found comparable evidence of intrinsic motivation, albeit of another breed. Namely, adults will spend hours upon hours learning how to build 3D worlds, when they themselves find meaning and value in doing so. The meaning and value I documented were derived from being creative, and being creative with and for other people. http://tinyurl.com/yjojsu3

So the take away may be as simple and challenging as understanding what motivates an individual(s) in a particular context, understanding the context, and then exploiting your understanding.