Inner motivation can get you somewhere you didn’t think you are able to go. © Kari.

First the story. I was once working in a project in which the sales had decided to put into the architecture a cryptic black box component. Nobody liked the component and it provided little value (if any) in the system. Finally the developers learnt to hate the component. They had absolutely no inner motivation to work with the component, only outer motivation; they didn’t have a choice — they had to use the component.

Why inner (intrinsic) motivation is so important compared to outer (extrinsic) motivation? It is important because inner motivation is the major driver in everything in our life. If you do something because you are told to do so or just to get paid — sure, you will do it for the money. But if you really want to do that because it is also interesting, fun and you really want to learn the language or technology — then you get an extra boost you never get with just outer motivation. Inner motivation is something that is personally rewarding: you feel you learn something new and interesting.

Conclusions for specialists. Try to find inner motivation in your everyday work — that way you make a big difference how you enjoy your work. If your work does not give you enough challenges bring it on the table in your next face-to-face meeting with your superior. In the long run you do a lot better if you find inner motivation in your work.

Conclusions for managers. Try to find out how to increase the chances for inner motivation for your specialists. With inner motivation the specialists want to do good quality and be proud of what they do. With outer motivation they mostly do it just for the money.

So, what is the corollary to the story? Well, sometimes life seems to be easy in the Excel sheet. Some salesman or enterprise architect may get a brilliant idea: “Why not use Super-Black-Box-X” — we sure save a lot of money since we don’t have to implement that functionality ourselves!” But, wait a minute. Do we save money? What if the Super-Black-Box-X does not actually provide that much functionality and the other side of the coin is poorly documented niche product which no developer really wants to learn. Besides being cost-effective and functionally sound, there is intrinsic value in inner motivation and finding a solution that the developers are just dying for to work with.

If you got interested about the power of inner motivation you can next watch an excellent animated presentation of Dan Pink’s lecture about it.

The writer has double majors: Master of Arts (Psychology) and Master of Science (Software Engineering). The writer has spent his career in the field of software industry but still reads various psychology related articles with great interest.