Reading Lately – Carrots, Sticks, and Motivation

March 3, 2015

I was recently inspired by a blogger named Maya. She has a section on her blog called “Reading Lately” where she posts books/articles that she has recently read, or is currently reading. I felt like there was a lot of value in having a short list of reading material, with a short review about them as well.

I am kicking off my “Reading Lately” with 4 items (3 books, 1 article) that are all related to motivation.


1. Punished By Rewards

Alfie Kohn does a great job of beating you with research, after research, after research…until you submit to the fact that “carrot-stick” motivation is bad. In fact, he points out that there is little difference in the outcomes of rewards versus punishments (hence the title…Punished by Rewards). This is a great book to learn about what NOT to do when trying to recognize and motivate people. In short, I have two major takeaways – do not promise rewards/penalties in advance (do this, get that); and praise the “artwork” not the “artist” (bonus points if you are specific with your praise).

2. Drive

In this book, Daniel Pink has a short version of the science (as compared to Punished by Rewards) and the meat of the book is about the “three elements” of motivation – Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. This book is a fantastic pair to Punished by Rewards…but if you choose to read only 1 of the 2, pick Drive. The three elements give you a great heuristic for motivating others – internal motivation goes up as autonomy, mastery, or purpose increase.

As Pink says in the book, it’s time for an upgrade and for us to move away from carrot-stick motivation.

3. Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…

The difference in this book, versus the previous 2, is that Susan focuses on the skills required to be a motivating leader:

  • identify your current motivational outlook
  • shift to, or maintain, an optimal motivation outlook
  • reflect on your energy, vitality, and sense of well-being

She also highlights some of the “drivers” that are more external, or instrumental. Leaders need to be mindful of these external drivers because they will undermine someones quality and sustainability of motivation.

4. Multiple Types of Motives Don’t Multiply the Motivation (article)

This article contains the research of the longest running study on motivation (over the span of 14 years). What they learned was impressive. As the abstract summarizes, if you apply some of these carrot-stick motivational drivers to someone who was already motivated, you will make them less motivated in the long run. “Instrumental motives” in this article seem to be the same “drivers” that Susan talks about in her book.

This begs the question, why would we risk trying to motivate people with incentive programs knowing that it will hurt us long term?