More posts by James Lewis

Our motivation depends a great deal on our personal circumstances.  If we are starving or thirsty, then we are driven by our basic survival instincts.  However, if our immediate survival is not at risk, if our basic operational needs are satisfied, we can then focus on satisfying slightly higher order requirements.  You may well remember learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in school or during your professional life, but as a refresher, it looks like this:


Our basic survival needs are shown at the lowest level of this pyramid in the red “physiological” category, but, if you’re reviewing blogs about motivation, these are likely not your immediate concerns.  In our professional lives, we focus on fulfilling our need for esteem and self-actualization, the upper parts of the hierarchy.  But how do we do that?  How do we realize these higher purpose needs in our working lives, and what does this mean for individuals, teams, and for an enterprise as a whole?

In the brief but engrossing “Drive” (Riverhead Books, 2009), author Daniel Pink offers a detailed breakdown of the issues involved and how to approach them in a professional context.  He identifies two broad categories of motivations; type X or extrinsic motivations and type I or intrinsic motivations.  Examples of type X motivations are those that lie outside the individual, such as financial incentives, praise in front of colleagues, job promotion, and etc.  In contrast, intrinsic motivations drive us to satisfy those internal needs that move people forward towards the pinnacle of the hierarchy, self-actualization.  What this means in practice is different for everyone, but these motivations often centre around: a) personal/professional growth; b) having meaningful work to do; c) expanding satisfying professional relationships; or d) engaging in collective efforts and achieving shared successes.  Pink identifies supporting the development of personal autonomy as most effective to realizing these higher order, type I, motivations.

Focusing on intrinsic over extrinsic motivations is important for long-term team and enterprise health, as fulfilling intrinsic needs leads to rewarding professional situations for team members.  The ideal state we are aiming for when focusing on self-actualization is often referred to as “flow”. What this means in practical terms is different for everyone, but it is generally understood as a situation where focus is heightened, work is deeply engrossing to the point where time seems to be passing quickly, and even begins to border on (dare we say?) fun.

This isn’t to say that there is no benefit to focusing on extrinsic motivations in certain situations.  As Pink points out, not all work is engaging or satisfying; some work is just drudgery that still needs doing.  In situations where unenjoyable grunt work is unavoidable, it helps for managers and others to recognize the work as such, and provide an immediate extrinsic motivation (bonuses, team celebrations, etc.) to soften the negative impact.

The key lesson to take away from Pink’s book is that for the long-term health and stability of teams, and enterprises, a focus on intrinsic (type I) motivations is of primary importance. This principle should be considered when proposing and organizing new projects, as well as in the formulation of corporate recognition/reward mechanisms.  Developing a sense of autonomy and workplace satisfaction in everyone we work with will lead to greater performance, enhanced engagement, improved collaboration, more continuity and, ultimately, an enterprise that is not only highly productive, but deeply enriching at the same time.

From a software development perspective, Agile practices align very well with supporting intrinsic (type I) motivations.  The autonomy that Pink indicates is fundamental to reaching an ideal state of being is central to core Agile principles such as building projects around motivated individuals and enabling teams to self-organize.  This approach to development provides Intelliware with a platform to continue supporting the self-actualization of our team members, as well as our client partner organizations.

Find “Drive” on Amazon