Peer Production and intrinsic motivation

Why is it that in so many cases, peer production projects turn out the winners in the asymmetric competition with for-profit companies? One of the reasons given is of the availability of a large source of unpaid volunteers, and another reason is that peer production is directly motivated by use value, and therefore, there is a process of permanent innovation, rather than just innovation because of competitive pressure.

But another reason has to do with the fact that the main motivation is intrinsic motivation.

According to this interesting blogpost by Alexander Kjerulf, which is accompanied by an excellent image. There are four kinds of motivation: extrinsic (from the outside) motivation depending on rewards, extrinsic because of the fear of punishment, negative intrinsic motivation (not wanting to do something) and positive intrinsic motivation. The authors then cites research showing that the first three, even rewards, ultimately don’t work, or work a lot less well than the last alternative.

He cites a the following study: “According to one Gallup study 60-80% of workers are not engaged at work. They feel little or no loyalty, passion or motivation on the job. They’re putting in the hours, but they’re not doing a great job and they’re certainly not happy at work!”

Motivation by rewards ultimately doesn’t work because:

“It’s not sustainable – As soon as you withdraw the punishment or reward, the motivation disappears.

You get diminishing returns – If the punishment or rewards stay at the same levels, motivation slowly drops off. To get the same motivation next time requires a bigger reward.

It hurts intrinsic motivation – Punishing or rewarding people for doing something removes their own innate desire to do it on their own. From now on you must punish/reward every time to get them to do it.”

The quote is from P2P learning pioneer A. Kohn, whose work we really recommend.

Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by the following factors:

Challenge – Being able to challenge yourself and accomplish new tasks.

Control – Having choice over what you do.

Cooperation – Being able to work with and help others.

Recognition – Getting meaningful, positive recognition for your work.

Happiness at work – People who like their job and their workplace are much more likely to find intrinsic motivation.

Trust – When you trust the people you work with, intrinsic motivation is much easier.

Alexandre then concludes:

What some managers don’t realize is that people want to do good work. Create a happy, positive work environment and people are naturally motivated. Even better: They motivate themselves and each other.

Our own conclusion is that these are precisely the conditions which apply to peer production, which is another key reason making this new mode of production such a strong alternative.

I have only summarized the argumentation above, so I recommend going to the whole article.

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