David Brohede is a registered psychologist and has devoted much of his career to behavioural change. When he hears the word “community” he thinks of human motivation and belonging, of the human drive to create, and to do so together.
He maintains that this is why the Linux operating system has grown as big as it has. And why Wikipedia – a website that at the time of writing is run by over 138,000 active volunteers – has been able to knock out many of the commer-cial encyclopaedias published by companies with enormous budgets.
The answer lies in intrinsic motivation
David Brohede says that modern motivation research can be summarized as a duality – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – and that this can be the answer to why a community is formed and how it survives.
Put simply, intrinsic motivation is the drive that’s rooted in your curiosity, what you’re interested in and what you find enjoyable and important in your life. This type of motivation scholars call “autonomous” motivation. The drive comes from within. Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside – money, status, prizes, guilt, coercion, recognition and countless other such extraneous things. This scholars call “controlled” motivation, because it’s controlled from the outside.
If you want to know if what you do is driven by intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, you can ask yourself a simple question: Why am I doing this? Think about if you’re doing whatever task it is out of your own free will or because someone is expecting it of you.
Let’s say that you’re digging a pit. Since you find it a boring task, we’ll agree that you’ll get a penny for every shovelful of soil you remove.
“In this situation, extrinsic motivation in the form of a reward can actually work,” says Brohede. “But as soon as you have complex tasks to perform, extrinsic motivation doesn’t operate in the way we might think. Whether it’s managing a project, creating something innovative or leading a group, studies show that sometimes people actually underperform if you give them extrinsic motivation in the form of a raise or an outcome-linked bonus. This is because you’ll have removed their intrinsic motivation and their reason for wanting to do the job in the first place.”
He tells us about his daughter who bounces up and down on her new trampoline from morning to night. She doesn’t do this because he’s paying her, but because she loves it. She keeps running to fetch her dad to show him some new trick she’s learnt. If, however, he’d offered her a penny per bounce, she wouldn’t have kept going for as long because her joy – the intrinsic motivation – of bouncing would have been removed.
Focus on not destroying
“Instead of running motivation-boosting initiatives, com-panies should focus on not destroying the motivation that already exists. Because the risk is that the managers think that written strategies and going on team kick-offs will solve things.”
These are Brohede’s words. But they’re not bitter or accu-satory. What he means is that most of us don’t understand what the research says about motivation.
During the age of industrialisation we began to regard human beings as machines. We promoted efficiency with carrot and stick – a rather crude philosophy. And it worked, up to a point, back then. But as society and our lives have grown more and more complex, we have to change our views on what it is that motivates us.
“What organisations need to realise is that they can’t pay people to be ambassadors and to be passionate about their jobs. It’s impossible. But on the other hand, you can create conditions that enable it to spring forth naturally in people. And then avoid destroying it. It’s when people choose to do something from their own impulses that you’re on the right track.”
The building blocks of a strong community
According to modern motivational research, there are three things you should focus on if you want to build a strong community. It’s a recipe that works just as well if you want to create a healthy company. These three parts are autonomy; competence and learning; and belonging and purpose.
Autonomy is when you’re involved in deciding how things are to be done.
Do you want to make people autonomous and involved? Give them clear directions to a clear destination. Let them then decide what has to be done, when it’s to be done, where it’s to be done and with whom.
Competence and learning is about being challenged, learning new things and getting better at what you do.
Do you want to make more people feel like they’re developing? Then ask them – one at a time – what you can do to make their job and their working day a little easier. What can you help them with? How? What do they want to learn and get better at?
Belonging and purpose is the third part. It’s not just the bosses of the country’s largest companies that want a more meaningful life at work and at home. We all want something greater to aim towards and the opportunity to get there with others who like the same thing as we do.
Explain why you do what you do – leaving aside financial gain. What is the main reason for people having to drag themselves out of bed every morning? What change does your organisation want to achieve in the world, and why? What story do you want employees, customers and partners to tell about you?
The three parts above describe the operating system Linux and Wikipedia to a T. They are platforms built on an open source code, of which anyone can and may help to change the content – and even add to it. There’s no boss dictating what has to be done and by whom. It’s up to you and everyone else to do what you think needs doing, and since no parts of it are secret, the knowledge is free. After-wards, you and many millions of others can say that you helped to create one of the world’s biggest operating systems and encyclopaedias.