In recent research, Amy Wrzesniewski, associate professor of organizational behavior, and co-author Barry Schwartz examined the effectiveness of internal and external, or instrumental, motives. They report on their research in a July 6 article in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, titled “The Secret of Effective Motivation.” The article quickly became the most emailed article on the Times website.
Wrzesniewski and Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, describe the results of a long-term study of West Point cadets that found that those with strong internal motives and weak instrumental motives outperformed those with strong internal and instrumental motives. Sometimes, they argue, one strong motive is better than two.
The authors consider possible implications of these findings in a number of fields. “Our study suggests that efforts should be made to structure activities so that instrumental consequences do not become motives. Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also—counterintuitive though it may seem—their financial success.”