Is there really a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

Leaves and light bulb

All the way back in 2009, a friend of mine, Pascoe Sawyers, sent me a link to a TED Talk by Dan Pink, delivered in Oxford. In just eighteen minutes, he delivered a tremendous talk and covered a lot of ground. A year or so later, I read his book: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which is a fascinating and insightful work that gave me much to think on.

The essence of Pink’s argument is one that we at Motivational Maps passionately agree with: business does not deploy the real science of motivation when dealing with staff; and businesses (including not-for-profit and government organisations) tends to use a limited carrot and stick approach that only works in a narrow set of circumstances.

Put even more forcefully, Pink argues that the “If  [you do this]… Then [you get that]...” model destroys creativity. In fact, “If... Then...”  only works when dealing with simplistic activities—potty training comes to mind—certainly not anything requiring innovation or creativity. He goes on to remark that we in the West need to be creative if we are going to compete with the East.

Pink cites a lot of scientific evidence for his assertions and these are pretty compelling. One of his most telling points came at the end of his talk: he asks us to compare and contrast two products, Encarta and Wikipedia. If you were to ask in the late ‘90s which one would come to dominate the market—the product with all of Microsoft’s R&D behind it, a whole lot of highly paid managers and professionals, and marketing experts, or a self-help product produced by amateurs and “nerds”—who would you bet on?

The counter-intuitive fact is: Wikipedia won, and an essential part of this winning is down to motivation. They were/are a highly motivated team of people bent on a mission versus a bunch of professionals doing a job, earning a living, expecting a pay cheque. The controversial subtext of this is big pay cheques don’t work. In many case studies, Motivational Maps has seen organisations offer pay rises (either across the board or to a select few) only for motivation levels to decrease.

Pink goes on to say that the money motivators—extrinsic motivators—are weak compared with what he calls the intrinsic motivators. He identifies three core intrinsic motivators: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

At Motivational Maps, we are gratified that there are three – our system is built on nine motivators in three blocks of three. And we have a special language for Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose: we call them the Spirit, the Expert and the Searcher.

However, there is a problem with this separation of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. The problem is perception.

Motivational Maps’ nine key motivators are partly derived from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. These needs are our true motivators and although they are placed in a “hierarchy”, they all come under the umbrella of a need. At Maps, we take this one step further and recognise all motivators as being equal. We actually have all nine motivators, but each individual’s unique makeup means that we prioritise one motivator over another, and we experience the different motivators in varying degrees of intensity.

While all motivators are equally valid, some are more complex than others. At the apex of the hierarchy, we find the most complex needs, such as the quest for meaning (which we call The Searcher). The need for meaning isn’t a need in the same way as food, but the lack of either can kill us. Similarly, the need for money and status (The Builder) may not, on the surface, seem as important in the evolutionary scheme as our relationships with others (The Friend)—the instinct of belonging that is derived from our mammalian ancestry—and yet we all know that where you live and how much money is in your bank account impacts your quality of life in a thousand different ways. Poverty can kill just as easily as war or famine.

How my point about perception ties in is this: every motivator is intrinsic from the standpoint of the person motivated by it!

For the person who has The Builder as their number one motivator, money really is a deep need, as important as breathing. Likewise for The Creator, the act of creation is as essential as water and must be undertaken daily.

This may not seem like a major difference in the grand scheme, but on closer examination, and following the thinking to its appropriate end point, we see that the two models are worlds apart. To further illustrate this, we should examine Motivation 3.0.

In Drive, Pink introduces the idea of Motivation 3.0, a model that is simultaneously evolutionary and digital. Pink posits that human beings’ need to “upgrade their software” and reach a higher level of motivation and awareness by operating on the basis of intrinsic motivators rather than merely survival or command-and-control regimes. To me, this thinking is utopian and profoundly unscientific.

Whilst I absolutely agree with Pink on the issue of the importance of motivators beyond the command-and-control / carrot-and-stick model, this is not about an upgrade to human consciousness or some kind of quantum leap evolution (for let’s keep in mind Allan Bloom’s profound observation in his The Closing of the American Mind, “Human nature must not be altered in order to have a problem-free world.”). One man’s motivator is not better than another’s. The desire for meaning isn’t inherently better than the desire for a faster car. What really matters is whether or not people are acting in alignment with their motivators.

Because the world will become a better place if more people, firstly, become cognizant of their motivators, and secondly, begin to move in accordance with their motivators. Motivational Maps does what it says on the tin and gives people and businesses a road map they can follow. Our goal is not to chastise people for how they are wired, but to liberate them with self-knowledge, which will allow them to pursue their real desires and motivators, which are often obscured by societal conditioning and debilitating psychological narratives. Meeting your motivators leads to greater happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and energy levels—and when you have these things, you no longer need to engage in destructive behaviours. Motivation is not about changing who you are according to an academic paradigm but revealing who you are.

The way to Motivation 3.0 is not by shunning so-called “extrinsic” motivators in favour of “high level” intrinsic ones, but precisely the reverse. By engaging more deeply with our true motivators, whatever they may be, we can rediscover the purpose and joy of life, which will enrich not only our own lives, but the lives of everyone around us.

Find out more about Motivational Maps from our community of licensed practitioners

And if you want an opportunity to meet Motivational Map experts in person, you are welcome to attend our UK  Summer Conference


How Do Motivational Maps Fit In With The Enneagram?

Cogs and wheels

Nothing exists in a vacuum, and even the most original inventions and innovations tend to have their origins in something extant. In the case of Motivational Maps, there were several key influences in the development of the tool: Edgar Shein’s Career Anchors is one. Another is the ancient personality profiling system known as The Enneagram.

To be clear, there are several key differences between The Enneagram and the Motivational Map. At a most basic level, the Maps are not a personality profiling tool—so a pretty major divergence! However, structurally and symbolically the Maps and The Enneagram are closely intertwined, and understanding the similarities and differences between them can augment one’s understanding of not only each respective system, but also of the human condition.

So, if the Maps and The Enneagram are not the same type of tool, what other links are there between them? For a start, The Enneagram and Motivational Map both share a nine-point system (indeed, the Greek word “enneagram” means literally “nine points”). In The Enneagram, these are nine personality types. In the Maps, these are the nine motivators.

Whilst this may seem a superficial difference on the surface, one only has to look at all the other personality profiling and skills-based tools out there to realise how distinct this is. Most personality profiling tools use a variation based on multiples of four, perhaps harkening back to the medieval system of the “four humours”. Nine, therefore, is unusual.

And, as we shall see, nine is a number of special significance. For one thing, it naturally lends itself to being organised into triads. Both Maps and The Enneagram do this, with three groups of three types / motivators. In the case of the Enneagram, the types are organised into groups determined by their “centre of intelligence”: the head (thinking), the heart (feeling), and the body / gut (knowing / instinct).

The Maps breaks down into the R.A.G. clusters, an acronym standing for Relationship, Achievement, and Growth.

One can already see from the naming convention alone that these also correspond with the centres of intelligence present in The Enneagram. Relationship motivators are generally more feeling orientated; Achievement motivators more orientated towards thinking and cerebral activities; and Growth motivators more about gut instinct and that “knowing” often associated with spirituality.

Unlike the Maps, The Enneagram describes fixed points that we abide in. One cannot change one’s Enneagram type. Each Enneagram type possesses what some writers refer to as a “primary fixation” or “primary addiction” which defines the central struggle of one’s life. For example, in the case of the 8-type, the central fixation is lust for dominance. Balancing and integrating this “fixation” is therefore the lifelong goal of the 8-type.

In the case of the Maps, we are not defined by any single type. Instead, we all possess all nine motivators, but in a priority order, and to varying degrees of intensity. Furthermore, our motivations may change over time, as they are influenced by our experiences.

This may seem contradictory, but in reality, these two systems are complementary. The Enneagram allows us to correctly identify and describe the part of us that is fixed and largely unchangeable (perhaps even biological in some sense). The Maps allows us to measure the other part of us that shifts and changes according to our experiences and beliefs. To continue our earlier example, knowing that one is an 8-type, and has a fixation upon lust for dominance, might become highly relevant if, for example, we also have the Director motivator very high in our profile. The Director motivator reflects the desire for control of people and resources. In combination with the 8’s lust for power, this could be a very problematic combination for subordinates and colleagues! But knowing that we have a predisposition for excess, especially in relation to power, we might be able to temper ourselves more readily than if we purely looked at either the motivator or Enneagram type in isolation.

Of course, certain motivators and Enneagram types tend to walk hand in hand. This should not be taken to reductive levels, as the power of the Maps is that they do not stereotype or reduce to a single archetype. However, given that the Enneagram types are informed by certain deeply, deeply seated core beliefs, it is only natural that these beliefs will influence our motivational profiles. For example, the 1-type on the Enneagram is concerned with morality and perfection—indeed, they are often called the “moral reformer”. This naturally chimes with the Searcher motivator, which is about the desire to make a difference in the world. It is not to say that every 1 on the Enneagram also has Searcher as their number one motivator, but understanding the links between our personality and motivators can lead to deeper understanding of why we do what we do.

Of course, where there exist conflicting motivators and Enneagram types, this can provide really deep insight. For example, an individual who was a 1-type on the Enneagram, but also had Builder as their number one motivator, would probably feel very conflicted between wanting to make a difference to people, to “do the right thing”, but also wanting to make tons of money and have that successful lifestyle. There are two things to say about this. Firstly, there are a number of reasons that Builder might have become their number one motivator, including a sudden horrendous tax bill from the government, or a looming debt that needs to be repaid. Secondly, a great coach will work with an individual in this state to help them find the “way through”, which is often a synthesis and integration of these seemingly disparate elements. Maybe there is a way for this person to help others and also make money. We tend to think along narrow and linear lines, especially when we are in the midst of a problem or crisis, and the job of a great coach is to help people see the wider picture! This is easier when you, as a coach, can see more of the picture by virtue of having the right combination of tools at your disposal.

There is no easy formula to understand human behaviour, and for every rule there exists an exception, but with both the ancient wisdom of the Enneagram and the science-backed insight of the Motivational Map, one is better able to triangulate the cause-and-effect relationship between belief and behaviour, thought and action, habit and success.

For more information about the Motivational Maps and the Enneagram, you can read Mapping Motivation.

Contact a licensed Motivational Maps practitioner HERE


How to Avoid Over-Simplification With The Alchemy of Motivational Maps


The human brain loves shortcuts.

This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, creating neurological shorthands allows us to “automate” certain functions and therefore devote more brainpower to the big picture. On the other hand, this conceals the true nature of reality from us. How many times have you driven to work only to realise, once you arrived, that you cannot remember a single detail of what you thought about or what happened on the drive? Or, even worse, how many times have you exchanged polite pleasantries with a work colleague only to realise afterwards that you cannot remember a single pertinent detail of the exchange? We don’t do this maliciously or because we don’t care, simply because our brains are hardwired to make as many functions as easy and simple as possible for us.

Because of this, we have a tendency to over-simplify things. We reduce politics to two camps, when the reality is more nuanced. We reduce life itself to two camps: work and pleasure, when there are many shades in between. We offer up innumerable simplifications of the formula for success, happiness, or wellbeing, when anyone who has explored these topics in any depth knows that there is no simple formula.

We take complex and nuanced systems and try to boil them down to the essentials. But often, in doing this, we lose a great deal of the meaning, elegance, and perhaps most importantly the efficacy of these systems. The power often lies in the complexity.

The Motivational Maps is a self-perception inventory. Unlike personality profiling tools or skills-based tools, a Motivational Maps profile does not assign a person a single grand “archetype” that becomes emblematic of their personhood. All of us have all nine motivators, but we hold these motivators in an order of priority. In other words, most of us tend to have two or three motivators that are more dominant than the others. And most of us tend to have one or two motivators which are so low in our priority that we actively avoid them!

However, because of the human hardwiring, it’s often the case that we look at the top motivator in our profile and take that as our grand archetype. It’s much easier and simpler to do this, of course, than looking at the complex alchemy of how all our motivators might interrelate.

But we must do our best to avoid this at all costs. As I said in my introduction, using these intellectual “shorthands” denies us the pleasure and fullness of reality. If we truly want to understand ourselves, and understand our motivations, then we have to fully embrace the complexity even though it is harder.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

So, with Motivational Maps, we take the harder path. But the reward—an enviable life—is worth it!

If you would like to know more about Motivational Maps then contact one of our licensed Motivational Maps Practitioners - you can find some of them HERE.