During my bachelor’s, I formed an organization based on the idea that undergrads could successfully do research in a laboratory. The result was a volunteer group of motivated, loyal individuals who independently researched their own projects and produced great results.

Since then, I have had limited success with similar attempts. I decided to figure out what it was that made the first organization succeed while others failed. The fundamental problem was motivation of the recruits.

As I considered motivation, I came to a realization that there is a distinct difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. We intuitively know that intrinsic motivators produce more internalizable and long-lasting goals than extrinsic motivators. Nevertheless, we have been tempted with money, promotion, etc, or threatened with loss of income in order to produce work.

For example, we know that giving someone a challenge to acheive a goal that they value actually produces better results than giving people money. Organizations may find that they get productive behavior with income-based incentives, but truly creative, innovative productivity arises out of internal drive. In fact, creativity is highly linked to finding inner meaning through work. These intrinsic incentives are truly powerful.

So what are the most basic intrinsic motivators?

The answer is autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

How did I come upon this magical triplet? Two words: Dan Pink. One place: TED talks. 

In the foregoing movie, you will see a good-looking, ostensibly even-tempered Dan Pink wax emotional and even borderline furious as he tries to embed the principles of good motivation into the gushy grey matter between our ears.

Why is he trying so hard? Because we've been getting it wrong for so long. Since the dawn of civilization leaders have been attempting to use coercion as a means of enforcing their will. Even during the Enlightenment, some thinkers were still convinced that rule of law could not be maintained without external enforcement or incentives. What is being discoverd in economics, sociology, and psychology is that motivation can come from intrinsic meaningful sources and this requires no enforcement – just participation.

This is really at the core of Government 2.0. A centralized leviathan telling everyone what to do is unnecessary; rather, Gov 2.0 is a realization of open participation in government by the people and the effectiveness of small groups of skilled, passionate participants. The lesson for government is that people participate when they feel that they are free, are contributing needed skills, and are a part of something worthwhile.

Fundamentally, this means letting go of the reins and allowing people to do more or their own free will and choice. The function of the government in this light then is to provide training, standards, and a participatory framework. Such a framework would allow open communication and common trust so that citizens feel free to share and participate. If government can succeed in establishing this kind of infrastructure, the majority of the work is done. In this environment, participation becomes its own motivator.

Rick Smith


Rick Smith

Rick Smith is a passionate advocate of the commons (and its slightly more business-minded relative, crowdsourcing) and its integration into good governance. He spent two years in Taiwan sharing his

Things I share: Chinese cooking, hand-made artisan chocolates, ideas that change the world. Twitter: @h2oindio