My brain has continued to be rocked on a page by page basis as I read through Punished by Rewards. It’s leading me down some very weird and potentially interesting thought paths.
Some general impressions. Intrinsic motivation, as defined by the book, seems to be a synonym for “self-driven interest”. An honest interest and desire to seek out a certain activity, experience, etc. Like the book Drive which I read before, intrinsic motivation seems to be very closely tied with autonomy. Basically, the only way to really enjoy something for itself is to enjoy it on your own terms, with your own intentions, with the least amount of outside control exerted on you as possible.
In fact, as I start learning more about it, extrinsic rewards are really just a form of control. Control is, if you think about it, enforced consequences. If you do this, then this will happen. If that control is coming from outside yourself, it is most likely taking the form of rewards and punishments. Therefore, rewards and punishments are ways to offset the balance of power, and control, to benefit the rewarder, or the punisher.
Most rewards and punishments, I’m realizing, are given by someone who for some reason or another 1) has some level of control over me, and 2) is using that reward/punishment as a means to maintain that power. Rewards and punishments help keep the powers-that-be in power. They are the puppet strings. They live higher up the cause and effect ladder than we do, and therefore they are closer to the source of all control.
That is, unless you strive to be self-driven, self-determined, and self-motivating. To be your own boss.
And of course it makes sense. Teachers need to stay in control of their students, and the classroom. Managers need to stay in control of their employees, and the jobs that need to get done. We willingly opt in to these hierarchies of power in order to work better as a group. So chaos and anarchy don’t reign.
Only problem is that, when we are operating within a power dynamic, we behave differently. We are highly attuned to leadership, authority, etc, and our brains behave differently when we are being watched, or controlled. Notice how your driving changes when you see a cop in your rear view mirror. Do you drive more safely? Not necessarily. You drive more “invisibly”. You attempt to stand out less, be less likely to be singled-out for transgression. Same goes when a teacher walks down your aisle looking at what people are working on. Or your boss comes over. Or you’re at a client dinner. Our brains shift into a more narrow mode where we attempt to comply. Which is entirely different from the creative thinking that you might do on your own, when nothing is on the line, when you have nobody to answer to and nothing to lose. When you’re with peers there is not as much fear of standing out… in fact, it’s desirable to differentiate yourself somehow, to be memorable.
Those times when I’m thinking creatively, ignorant of any authority over me, are the times that I do my best work (or, at least the most fulfilling kind). And it seems that the science also says that this is true… that we work best when we feel autonomous, when we are driven by our own interests, and are able to enjoy the results of our work because they are ours, and not necessarily because we were awarded it by someone else.
How can something like a company, which is basically a power hierarchy, design for autonomy. To not even safe-guard its own control? Can something like that even exist? Or is the unprotected power structure quickly dismantled? Can the controller ever be okay with the tools used to dismantle itself?