Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What monkeys have taught us.

In 1949 one day Harry F. Harlow and two colleagues chose to execute an experiment on monkeys. What they needed: Eight Rhesus Monkeys, two-weeks, and a simple mechanic puzzle. The puzzle they chose requires very little cognitive ability – so it’s easy for me and you. For the thirteen pound lab monkey, it’s a different story.

Here’s the interesting part: Harlow wrote,  “Unbidden by any outside urging and unprompted by the experimenters, the monkeys began playing with the puzzles with focus, determination, and what looked like enjoyment.” Now a group of puzzle solving monkeys might not initially trigger any response other than cool, so what? Harlow’s research made a big splash in the world of motivation. When you have monkeys solving a solution that did not lead to any immediate rewards like food, water or sex there is something else driving these monkeys. There’s something else that drives humans too – and Harlow offered up a theory he called the third drive. The third drive is something that provides intrinsic reward to the individual working on the task – and we know from common knowledge that Harlow was on to something spectacular.

Fast-forward to present day – the knowledge era. Our workers are becoming increasingly capable and creative, and employers need to accommodate them. It’s imperative that employers understand that in order to recruit and keep good people – that third drive needs to be satisfied. Motivating people to do work not because they are being externally rewarded for it (which many times is the wrong thing to do) but because as a leader you recognize and frame the situation to each individual that is best suited to their style of working/understanding. 

How are you motivating your employees?