I have been reading a lot lately about some polarized individual differences in motivation. This is one that fascinates me, and is directly relevant to my work on motivation and gamification.
Some people are motivated by completion. They feel a great sense of ability and accomplishment when they successfully complete something. Success doesn’t necessarily mean perfection, although it can for some people in this group. But there is a categorical difference between being done and not being done, however that is defined. These people are not nearly as affected by how far they have come as they are with how much is left. Having a lot left is demotivating because the expectation of completion is far away. But when they get really close you see a jump in motivation because just a little more effort and they get the huge rush of completion. Marathon runners often fall into this category. Many runners (but not all, so don’t assume I mean you) are just as bored from miles 1 through 22 as I am. But when that finish line becomes visible just over the crest in the road, their adrenaline really starts pumping.
Other people are motivated by progress. They feel a great sense of ability and accomplishment when they have traveled a long journey or learned a lot along the way. Success doesn’t mean they have reached some particular landmark or achievement. There is a categorical difference between making progress and stagnation, however that is defined. These people are not nearly as affected by the goal as they are with the process of pursuing it. Having come a long way is motivating. But a series of simple and easy accomplishments is not. Gamers often fall into this category, especially fantasy games but even jigsaw puzzlers can be. Many gamers (but not all, so don’t assume I mean you) don’t really care who wins or what the score is. But figuring out strategies to get through the current challenge is the motivating part. When the adventure is about to end or the jigsaw puzzle just has a few pieces left to place, it gets boring. But figuring out how to beat game aliens with a special resource they found in an abandoned building on level 3 is a huge rush, even if they haven’t done it yet.
Some people fall very squarely into one of these or the other. There are people in the middle who can be situationally primed. If an activity is framed by creating a narrative around it, you can push these people to derive value and motivation from either the completion or the process. You can make the path really engaging and the end point simple and plain. Or you can make the endpoint really engaging and the path just a set of obstacles to get through.
There are a lot of differences between these groups. Achievers are more likely to take shortcuts because the ends justify the means. Travelers are more likely to find ways to transfer strategies from one activity to another. Achievers probably make better short term sales people. Travelers probably make better teachers. Safety practitioners probably have to worry more about achievers – who might take a safety risk to achieve their job faster or better. R&D managers probably have to worry more about travelers – who might get sidetracked by an intriguing problem and not finish the design they are working on.
Which one are you?