Given a choice between solving puzzles for free or for pay — which would you pick?
If you want to stay motivated and solve more puzzles, the surprising thing is that you should do them for free.
In the early 1970s, psychologist Edward Deci wanted to study how money affects motivation. In one experiment, he paid one group $1 (that’s about $6 today) for each puzzle solved within three sessions, while the control group received no payment. In the middle of each session was an eight-minute free period in which people could continue puzzling, read magazines, or otherwise spend the time how they wished.
It was the paid group who chose to spend less time working on puzzles in the free periods. The extrinsic monetary reward made them lose intrinsic motivation, where the reward is the activity itself.
Over forty years later, managers still rely on the old model of dangling external rewards like money and prestige to motivate their people — but in today’s era of knowledge work, this model is increasingly misguided. If you think your people are going to continue to put in their best efforts with monetary rewards, you’re sabotaging the most powerful sources of motivation.