After recently presenting a workshop at the Lets Test conference on Self-Learning one of the concepts that people found difficult to grasp was the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. It may be due to the time constraints of the workshop or I did not explain clearly enough. Therefore I decided to put together this article to give a little more detail about extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors.
One psychology aspect of motivation is to work out what motivation factors are intrinsic and which are extrinsic. To begin with it is useful to define what is meant by extrinsic and intrinsic.
"Extrinsic motivation is ‘external’: people – in this case athletes – are driven to succeed by factors from outside i.e. money, prizes, acclaim, status, praise."
"Intrinsic motivation comes from within i.e. an athlete driven by a need to succeed because they want to be the best and are not overly concerned by financial or ego boosts."
Many people and organizations mistakenly assume that people are motivated and driven by financial rewards and to some extent they are. People do want to be financially rewarded for doing work. In the majority of cases money works as a motivation factor for people to get out of bed to go to work and do the normal everyday tasks.
As Kamenica points out:
"It is helpful to distinguish those tasks that people certainly do not want to do unless they are paid for them from those that people may or may not engage in.”
However there are studies which show that rewarding someone with money for something they have a passion for can demotivate and make them less effective.
“...tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation (…) Even when tangible rewards are offered as indicators of good performance, they typically decrease intrinsic motivation for interesting activities.”
A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewardson intrinsic motivation. Deci EL1, Koestner R, Ryan RM
Since extrinsic rewards form only a small part of what motivates people it is important to find out what makes people 'tick' How can you set an environment that encourages peoples passion and motivates them to be the best. Providing people with opportunities to pursue their passion be it time to study or learn can have a positive impact on a team as long as others in the team are given similar opportunities. The psychology of motivation is complex and what may motivate someone may not motivate someone else.
If you find something that is of interest you and you want to become passionate about it or if someone on your team is showing a passion for a certain activity it is worth focusing on the intrinsic motivation rather than the extrinsic. It is also important to be aware of the over-justification effect
"The catch-22 of extrinsic motivation. The over-justification effect occurs when someone naturally has a passion (intrinsic motivation) to see something through, but is offered a reward for its completion. Thus rendering them less effective. For instance, if an employee loves writing on your corporate blog but you decide to financially compensate them for each post. There is a chance they will find the writing less enjoyable. Since they have to be bribed into writing, then the task must not be worth doing for its own sake."
One way to inspire individuals is by using unexpected rewards. Unexpected rewards can inspire and motivate people; the key is to not expect a reward. For example if someone has done something that you feel was outstanding offering to take them for lunch and paying or giving a small gift of appreciation can go a long way to keep them motivated. One approach that can be useful when showing your appreciation for someone is to say how much you appreciate their hard work rather than how clever they were. This makes people value the effort more than anything else. You can use this kind of reward system to encourage the right behavior but it is important to realize that there is a thin line between unexpected and expected rewards.
“Yes, sometimes rewards do work, especially if people really don’t want to do something. But when tasks are inherently interesting to us rewards can damage our motivation by undermining our natural talent for self-regulation."
When thinking about the testing you are performing it is worthwhile investigating the motivating factors. If the testing you are carrying out a scripted approach then your motivation could be linked to extrinsic rewards rather than intrinsic rewards. It is worth asking yourself the following about the testing you are performing:
"Is the task at hand routine? That is, does accomplishing it require following a prescribed set of rules to a specified end?"
For these types of tasks extrinsic rewards can work. As a tester you should question if testing is really this type of task? Read the following questions:
- -When you are performing testing activities what is it that drives you?
- What gives you the most joy and value to yourself in the testing you are doing?
- Is it the satisfaction you get internally from uncovering how the system is working or not working?
- Is it the ability to be autonomous in your exploring of the software?
- Or is it something else that drives you to carry on with your investigations?
If you are nodding to any of these then maybe the testing you are performing is linked to your intrinsic motivation. This is different from the feelings you may get if carrying out step by step test scripts.
Daniel Pink sums up what intrinsic rewards means to the individual.
"It concerns itself less with the external rewards to which an activity leads and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself."
As an added complication Carles Malet described three motivational forces in his article "Motivation from Maslow to PerezLopez".
- Extrinsic motivation: when individuals act prompted by an external reward (or punishment), such as wages or improvements in the labor conditions.
- Intrinsic motivation: linked to the satisfaction that individuals obtain when performing certain tasks. The intrinsic motivation is linked to the human need of learning.
- Transcendent motivation: when the action is directed towards satisfying needs of other human beings. The transcendent motivation is linked to human generosity and the inner call for serving other human beings. Parents will recognize transcendent motivation patterns in their acting with their children, and so will do senior supervisors when empowering employees and charting their career plans.
Adding the third motivation factor is an interesting one since it plays on our human nature to want to help and support others. This as the example explains is apparent in our nurturing instinct where we get satisfaction for helping our offspring. In the software testing industry I have seen many examples of this with people providing their time freely to support and help others to learn, rather than being inwards and looking for their own learning opportunities. People depending on the context will apply different weighting to each of these motivational forces and being able to understand and know which has more significance to individuals and to yourself can help drive your and others passion.
Some of this material has been taken from the next chapter of my book – The Psychology of Software Testing – Building passion, due for publication July 2015.