When we talk about motivation, for most of the last century, that science focused on extrinsic rewards—that is, external motivators, “if-then” conditions of the “do this to get that” variety.
With extrinsic rewards, we incentivize the behavior we want more of and punish the behavior we dislike.
In business, for example, when we want to drive performance, we offer classic extrinsic rewards: bonuses (money) and promotions (money and prestige).
Unfortunately, an ever-growing pile of research shows that extrinsic rewards do not work like most suppose.
When it comes to increasing motivation, cash is king only under very specific conditions.
For very basic tasks that don’t require any cognitive skill, money can effectively influence behavior.
If I’m nailing together boards for five dollars an hour, offering me ten will increase the rate at which I nail.
But once tasks become slightly more complex—such as shaping those nailed boards into a house—once they require even the slightest bit of conceptual ability, money actually has the exact opposite effect:
It lowers motivation, hinders creativity, and decreases performance.
What’s more, this isn’t the only issue with money as a motivator.
Money, it now appears, is only an effective motivator until our basic biological needs are met, with a little left over for discretionary spending.
This is why, in America, as the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman recently discovered, when you plot happiness and life satisfaction alongside income, they overlap until $70,000—i.e., the point at which money stops being a major issue—then wildly diverge.
Once we pay people enough so that meeting basic needs is no longer a constant cause for concern, extrinsic rewards lose their effectiveness, while intrinsic rewards—meaning internal, emotional satisfactions—become far more critical.
Three, in particular, stand out: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Creating a company with autonomy, mastery, and purpose as key values means creating a company built for speed.
And this is no longer optional.
In a world of increasingly rapid change, tapping our intrinsic motivation is absolutely fundamental for any exponential entrepreneur.
Yet, unlike big companies, bold entrepreneurs can get ahead of the game, baking autonomy, mastery, and purpose into their corporate culture from the get-go, rather than bolting them on later.