The Sawyer effect

In Drive, Daniel Pink argues that people perform best when they do things because they're interesting and can do them with autonomy and self-direction. Pink describes how "if-then" or extrinsic rewards—say, for mowing the lawn or drawing a portrait—can diminish a subject's performance, creativity, and long-term interest in the task.

"For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation—[the third drive is] the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing—is essential for high levels of creativity," Pink says. When someone sets your goals, your challenge is to stay motivated. When you lead others, the challenge is to ensure they enjoy and feel part of the process without the stress of performing in a specific way to be rewarded.

Another curiosity I learned from Pink's research is Edward Deci's discovery of the Sawyer Effect—that depending on how rewards are used, they can turn play into work or work into play. Paradoxically, "When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity. […] [Artists] who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior. […] It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them."

May 4, 2021
Nono Martínez Alonso

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Pencil sketch of Nono Martínez Alonso.