It's okay to be individual

Like a playground to a kid or a pantry to a chef, social spaces are whatever we choose to make of them. At their best, they defer to our sense of individualism and autonomy, recognizing that every task, every deadline, every workstyle, and every moment throughout our day is different—and who better to decide what type of work space is best suited to meet our needs than us. But it goes deeper than just respecting our individual choices. At the core, social spaces are helping nurture and facilitate what intrinsically motivates us, and when we realize the power of these intrinsic forces, it can shape how we create a space and a work culture that taps into a company’s ability to solve difficult problems and generate break-through ideas.

 

 

WHAT IS INTRINSIC MOTIVATION?

According to seminal research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, intrinsic motivation refers to a natural instinct “to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacity, to explore, and to learn.” As opposed to extrinsic motivations that are influenced by factors outside oneself, intrinsic motivations are driven by an individual’s personal interest in an activity.

 

 

WHERE DOES OUR INTRINSIC MOTIVATION COME FROM?

According to seminal research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, intrinsic motivation refers to a natural instinct “to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacity, to explore, and to learn.” As opposed to extrinsic motivations that are influenced by factors outside oneself, intrinsic motivations are driven by an individual’s personal interest in an activity.

 

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE INHIBIT OUR INTRINSIC MOTIVATION?

Consider the following study performed by psychologist Sam Glucksberg: Participants are given a candle, a box filled with thumb-tacks, and a set of matches, and asked to attach the lit candle to the wall without allowing wax to drip on the floor. They are split into two groups. Participants in Group 1 are told they are being timed to establish norms. Participants in Group 2 are told they are being timed and will receive a monetary reward for finishing in the top 25% of fastest times.

 

 

 

SOMETHING TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE SOLUTION...

As most are prone to try, tacking or melting the candle to the wall does not work. The solution ultimately requires participants to overcome their “functional fixedness” by viewing the box not as a container for holding tacks, but as a makeshift shelf that can be tacked to the wall and hold the candle. Solving the candle problem requires, quite literally, out-of-the-box thinking.

 

 

HOW DID THEY PERFORM?

Participants in Group 2—those incentivized with a reward—took on average 3.5 minutes longer to devise a solution compared with participants in Group 1. That’s right, the people who had no monetary incentives performed better than those who had money on the line.

 

 

WHY DID THEIR PERFORMANCES DIFFER?

Participants in Group 1 were driven by intrinsic motivation. Throughout the course of the study they maintained autonomy over solving the problem, and subsequently were personally invested in seeing it through to the end. For participants in Group 2, the reward undermined their autonomy and inhibited their intrinsic motivations. They were no longer pursuing a solution for personal reasons, but to satisfy the interests of some else—the person dangling the reward.

 

 

WHAT'S THE BIG TAKEAWAY?

Participants in Group 1 were driven by intrinsic motivation. Throughout the course of the study they maintained autonomy over solving the problem, and subsequently were personally invested in seeing it through to the end. For participants in Group 2, the reward undermined their autonomy and inhibited their intrinsic motivations. They were no longer pursuing a solution for personal reasons, but to satisfy the interests of some else—the person dangling the reward.

 

 

OR, TO PUT IT
ANOTHER WAY...

“Just as there is no free lunch in the material economy, nothing comes free in the psychic one. If one is not willing to invest psychic energy in the internal reality of consciousness, and instead squanders it in chasing external rewards, one loses mastery of one’s life, and ends up becoming a puppet of circumstances.” - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

 

OR, TO PUT IT
ANOTHER WAY...

Leadership must set big picture goals and have a culture that empowers employees to take initiative, while also providing them with ongoing, constructive feedback. When assigning projects and setting goals, it’s important to strike the right balance between skill and task. An individual’s skill set undermatched to the task can create anxiety, while an overmatched skill set can produce boredom. In the end, leaders most effective at harvesting the fruits of intrinsic labor afford their employees the following qualities:

1) Autonomy—ensuring they have agency over their lives and the decisions they make

2) Competence—supporting their desire to continually learn and develop personal mastery

3) Purpose—connecting their efforts to the bigger picture

 

 

OR, TO PUT IT
ANOTHER WAY...

It’s important to remember that social spaces don’t provide intrinsic motivation, they facilitate it. When designing space, here are a couple considerations to support the individual and tap into their intrinsic motivation:

1) Expand the palette of options— By offering more social spaces reflecting a range of seating and table configurations and postures—or both individual and group work—employees are empowered to choose the type of workstation best suited for the task.

2) Embrace IQ and EQ design thinking— Social spaces can be designed with intention —but without asserting an agenda. Create spaces that balance an emotional pull (EQ) with a logical flow (IQ) to encourage exploration, discovery, and the occasional happy accident.

 

 

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It's okay to be human
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