On a sweltering summer morning, Mark Twain’s protagonist, Tom Sawyer, had to paint the fence around Aunt Polly’s house. But Tom doesn’t lose his temper and quickly finds a creative solution, he waits until the first of his friends comes to mock him for his hard work and then casually blurts out that painting fences is no small matter, and that what kid his age gets such respect? Suddenly, all the ridicule dissipates and the friend wants to try the painting for himself and is even willing to give up his apple for Tom’s sake. Tom soon begins accumulating assets in the form of a dead rat tied with string [to make it easier to turn over the head], colorful shards of glass, an innocent kitten, and many other treasures that the neighborhood children pay him for the great honor of painting a chunk of Aunt Polly’s fence under a scorching sun. By the end of the day, the fence is covered with three layers of paint and Tom discovers that “work is all a person is forced to do, and play is all that is not mandatory.” In this short passage, Mark Twain was a century ahead of his time with an idea that would change the face of the Industrial Revolution and would later be called “intrinsic motivation.”
In 1973, a promising young lecturer named Edward Desi was thrown out of the Department of Business Administration at the University of Rochester and found refuge full-time in the Department of Psychology. The young researcher challenged the modern work model, arguing that rewards do not improve or even hurt employee performance, and that modern society must allow employees autonomy and meaning in order to thrive.
What was perceived as heresy in the Department of Business Administration was accepted with understanding in the Department of Psychology. For years, it was thought that man had two possible motivations, an evolutionary biological impulse or external reinforcement and rewards. What Desi discovered is that, for example, children who have received an award for their drawings begin to treat painting as a work and do not enjoy it, while children who have not received rewards develop a fondness for drawing and treat it as a game.
These findings have been replicated time and time again in a variety of populations, tasks, and rewards, and have led to a distinction between “extrinsic motivation,” which is engaging in anything in order to obtain an external reward such as reward, positive feedback, or avoiding reprimand, and “intrinsic motivation,” which is engaging in something because of its pleasure or satisfaction. This difference is like the difference between work and acting, as Tom Sawyer’s friends discovered firsthand.
Desi’s work together with his colleagues changed the corporate perception of the twenty-first century. Google, which allows its employees freedom of action in one-fifth of their time, or 3M, which encourages its employees to form independent teams within the company, are just small examples of the revolution in the perception of motivation that is happening in the face of his very interest. However, the understanding that a person is happy when he acts from internal motives also has fateful consequences for our private lives, as parents we must support the children’s autonomy and not shower them with rewards and reinforcement, as professionals we must choose the areas to which our natural curiosity leads and which have the challenge and satisfaction of constant growth. At the Paamonim we make sure to speak in terms of “accompaniment”, since only the person himself can extricate himself from the mud, and the role of the escort is to stimulate and nurture this intrinsic motivation. This book is extremely practical and full of insights that will undoubtedly enrich both your personal life and your role as a life-changing volunteer.