Demotivational management

Mark Lepper and David Greene were psychologists at the University of Michigan.

They were investigating the difference between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" motivation.

They started with 51 children who all liked to draw, they separated them into groups.

One group was given a certificate with a gold seal and a ribbon when they finished drawing.

The other group was given nothing.

You’d expect the group that received the reward to work harder, they’d been motivated.

But they didn’t.

The group that received no reward carried on drawing as before.

The group that was rewarded began drawing less and less, eventually only half as much as they had at the beginning.

The reward worked the opposite way to what we’d expect, it demotivated the kids.

The kids who were intrinsically motivated (they just liked drawing) carried on doing what they liked just because they liked it.

But the kids who got a reward also got a message that drawing only had value if someone gave them something for it.

So they learned that drawing had no value on its own, just as an exchange for a reward.

Similar results were found among adults.

In a study of 128 people trying to quit smoking, those that were given rewards did worse than those that weren’t.

They concluded: "Tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation. They typically decrease motivation for interesting activities."

That’s exactly what I found running a creative department.

Everyone writes articles and gives speeches about motivating your staff: yoga lessons, more days off, healthy food, agency outings.

But I found all that had nothing to do with motivating people, quite the opposite.

If you have to motivate people, you’ve hired the wrong people.

For me, the whole secret was in the hiring. 

I looked for hungry people who’d been rejected, and all I had to do was get out of the way.

I wasn’t looking for the best, almost the opposite.

I was looking for people who were desperate for the chance to prove themselves.

They wanted to work when everyone else had gone to the pub.

The work was their fun, so I hired people like that.

I made sure they had the keys to the agency, so they could work 24/7 if they wanted.

I made sure there was always coffee, tea, toast, and biscuits so they didn’t go hungry.

I said: "Think of me as a boxing trainer. You say you want to be a great boxer, I can tell you what you need to do, but I can’t provide the determination.

"If you’re at my house waking me up at 5am to go running, then this will work.

"But if I have to come to your house and wake you up, then this won’t work."

Jack Charlton once asked Alf Ramsey why he picked him for the England football team, he wasn’t the best in his position.

Alf said: "I’m not looking for the best, I’m looking for people who play the game the way I want it played." 

That was the only time we ever won the World Cup, and some of those players weren’t even playing for clubs in the First Division.

Most of the people who worked for me went on to become creative directors, or have their own agencies.

Because the motivation didn’t come from me (extrinsic) it came from them (intrinsic).

That’s the motivation you carry around with you.

And, in my experience, energy beats talent.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three


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