What Motivates Us

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What Really Motivates People?
By Jane Strickler The Journal for Quality and Participation, Spring 2006 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Recognition and rewards are an integral part of performance management, aren't they? Maybe not-particularly when they create unhealthy competition, break down communication and teamwork, and create a sense of entitlement. Anerican business has always had a bias toward practical solutions. In some circles this bias is known as "street smarts." People with street smarts aren't bogged down with theories; they know from experience what works and how to get things done. What many practical people with street smarts may not realize, however, is that much of today's practical knowledge about human motivation is rooted in early 20th century behaviorism. Behaviorism is an idea popularized by B. F. Skinner, the Harvard clinical psychologist who, in the 1930s, theorized that human behavior is motivated by external stimuli (rewards and punishments). Skinner formulated his theories by coaxing rats to run a maze faster and pigeons to peck in a certain pattern by training them to expect a reward for "desirable" behaviors and a punishment for "undesirable" behaviors. By consistently applying these rewards and punishments, the rats and pigeons learned to expect a reward (food) for behaving in very specific ways. They also learned that if they failed to perform the desired behaviors, they would be punished (by the reward being withheld). Skinner called this kind of training "operant conditioning." He concluded that like his laboratory animals, people too respond to the expectation of rewards and punishments. Skinner's belief in the use of rewards and punishments to motivate people has become deeply entrenched in the psyche of American business. Of course, it is true that Americans (and people all over the world) are strongly motivated by the opportunity to...
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