• Register
Return to: Home > Comments > M for Motivation

M for Motivation

Ellie Fanis

When taking the early train into Central London, I see many people commuting. Looking around the carriage, I think to myself, "Where do people find the motivation to commute to work?" Trying to answer this question, my dad recommended I'd read a chapter from the book The Upside of Irrationality, written by Dan Ariely. The chapter of the book was called The Meaning of Labour. In the book, Ariely talks about experiments he and his colleagues at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had carried out. Amongst all the experiments he described, there was one I liked the most.

Two participants were asked to build Lego robots and they would be paid a decreasing amount of money for every one they made.
The first participant was told the robots would be kept in a box for later use. He started building the robots and soon enough, after ten robots, he gave up, because he realised that the price of the 10th robot was half of what he was paid for the first, so economically it didn't make sense for him to continue.

The second participant was being paid for the robots in the same way. But after finishing one and beginning the next one the assistant began dismantling the previous robot in front of him. The participant was not happy with the dismantling and gradually his motivation to build the robots diminished. Even if he was to be paid the same amount as the first participant, he saw no point in continuing after the fourth robot was built. It is clear his reason for stopping was not the money.

The first participant was able to point at the finished robots and feel pride for what he had achieved. The second participant felt that he had nothing to show for his work and saw no point in completing the task. The emptiness the second participant felt, when the assistant destroyed his robots, worked against his willingness to continue with the experiment.

This experiment made me look back at my Internship during the summer, where I was analysing time-series of data and producing daily reports and charts. In the beginning, I was focusing on producing the reports as fast as possible. After a while, I noticed that some of the reports were not being used. The reason was the markets were moving very fast and the conditions were changing all the time, so my work was not up-to-date. I discussed this with the manager and he ensured me that my analysis was of good quality, but as the market conditions change, the reports were "yesterday's" news. That made me feel demoralised, but this was the "nature" of my work.

What bothered me the most was the fear that my work was not being recognised, thus impacting my motivation. The reassurance from my colleague helped me overcome this feeling.

As I write this blog, I suddenly realise that writing it is similar to building "lego robots" that may soon be dismantled. Perhaps only my family reads them. Not knowing how many people read my posts can be demoralising, but I am not giving up. As someone famous once said: "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."

It seems the field of psychology can play an important role in helping us develop our own understanding of what motivates us and how to improve our performance. It may also help employers understand that more money is not always the best way to increase productivity and performance.

Top Content

    2018 Digital Accountancy forum and awards: Digital transformation

    The Accountant presents highlights from The Digital Accountancy Forum & Awards 2018 panel discussions

    read more

    2018 Digital Accountancy Forum and Awards: Tech deep dive

    The second panel session of the day saw experts discuss how new technologies should not just be seen as a threat, and could be used to improve accounting.

    read more

    Digital Accountancy Forum and Awards: The power of data

    The third panel discussion of the day saw panellists discuss some of the worries their clients have had, how to overcome them, and how data and technology are providing real business opportunities.

    read more

    Digital Accountancy Forum and Awards: The next generation

    With young people more mobile, and technology changing the industry rapidly, the final panel session of the Digital Accountancy Forum looked at how firms would need to adapt to the new reality

    read more
Privacy Policy

We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.