Beyond the carrot patch: motivate thyself!

One of so many things that the best rock groups can teach us about team performance is the value of self-direction.

Most of the top bands—from the Beatles to U2 to Green Day—have operated with a maximum of personal autonomy. No one was peeking over their shoulder, micromanaging them, directing them what to write or how to play.

This is helped by the fact that bands usually hire and fire their managers, not the other way around, which makes it abundantly clear who works for whom. (See my earlier post on this.)

The importance of personal autonomy was brought home to me again reading psychologist Edward Deci's 1995 classic "Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation"—based on decades of research by himself, colleague Richard Ryan, and others.

Their experiments overwhelmingly confirmed a significant (and heterodox) proposition: under most conditions individuals and teams operate best when motivated by intrinsic values, and worst when motivated by external controls and contingent rewards, including monetary bonuses. ("Contingent" means if you do or achieve X then you'll be rewarded—the classic carrot approach.)