Week 2: Designing with Extrinsic & Intrinsic Rewards

People are usually motivated to act because they want something. Maybe they want money, to be part of an exclusive group, to better themselves, to enhance their social status, to create future opportunities, or some combination. Last week we explored some core psychological needs around motivation, and this week we'll cover rewards.

We're using the term "reward" very broadly: here, it's defined as anything that makes a behavior more probable. It can make someone act because they might get it, or it can encourage repeated behavior when it occurs with or after the behavior.

Why we’re covering this

  • There are countless examples of reward systems motivating us to do the complete opposite of what they intend. Careless reward design is everywhere; we want you to make the right choices when trying to motivate others (or yourself).
  • We bet you already know something about rewards (just like you might have with SDT), so our focus will be on seeing new examples, questioning old assumptions, exploring effective case studies, and finding ways to make the insights actionable.
  • People and organizations often gravitate to a single reward type or philosophy. Motivation and the behaviors required to cause significant outcomes can change over time, so it's important to have a varied arsenal and design a reward system that's robust to changes in skill, novelty, difficulty, and other factors.


Our spin on it

  • While some people think extrinsic motivation is always bad, it's not so simple. We'll cover both when external motivators indeed risk reducing our internal motivation, but also when they can enhance it (or drive a behavior the first time, until motivation from competence or other intrinsic sources can kick in).
  • Good reward design can be incredibly impactful, especially with multiple types of rewards that change situationally or over time. We’ll get specific about what rewards match what behavior contexts, so you can pick the right tools for the job.
  • We don't oversimplify rewards or demonize any one type of reward or category of motivation. We want you to focus on the alignment: are behaviors, rewards, and their associated frequencies lined up, or out of sync?

We want you to come away from this week's experiences with a deeper understanding of rewards: which ones to use, when, and with what risks. Ready to get started?

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