The Science of Motivation

Following up from last week’s post about maintaining motivation, let’s ask the question: what motivates us as software engineers? One answer to this question has become well known in recent years.

What motivates us in creative problem solving and creative professions such as software engineering is not more money. Once your basic needs are financially met (and sadly, in some areas six figure salaries may still be considered basic), adding more money does not make employees happier or more motivated. In fact, we find that once a task requires rudimentary cognitive skill, larger rewards lead to poorer performance.

Rather than external motivations, what we actually need are internal motivations. This idea is from Dan Pink’s book Drive, and you can also watch an inspiring TED talk about it which I highly recommend. The specific things that can motivate us internally are: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Autonomy – urge to direct our own lives, to engage in self direction
Mastery- desire to get better and better at something that matters
Purpose – yearning to do what we do in service to something larger than ourselves

In the upcoming series of blog posts, we will explore these three factors as they relate to software engineers. Employers and companies can use these ideas to inform specific strategies to keep engineers engaged, motivated, and productive. Not to mention happy! But another powerful angle, and one which we will also explore, is how we as individuals can use these ideas to motivate ourselves outside of the workplace. Think of it as a life hack for motivation.

What do you think: for creative professions is external motivation enough? If not, are there other internal motivators besides those mentioned here that could be just as (if not more) important?

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