What’s the Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Drives?

Picture yourself on a stage. You look out and every seat is full and the audience has a nervous excitement that rubs your nerves thin. They gaze at you expectantly. Waiting… hoping… but for what?


Soon you realise they’re waiting for you! Though they’ve always been there, they’ve always been waiting, you’ve only just noticed them. All of a sudden you become painfully aware of yourself – it’s as if the spotlight has just been shone on you for the first time… and you’re stark naked. 


What do the audience want? 


You look down and notice you’re holding a baton. You’re the conductor. But you’ve never conducted before! How are you supposed to do this? 


Now you turn around and notice that you are not alone onstage. There is a whole symphony orchestra at your behest. You did not choose these musicians, these instruments. They were just given to you. They are just there


And now you’re expected to lead them, to make them play. 


The butterflies in your stomach intensify, morph and evolve into birds in your stomach. You have no idea what to play, and the audience looks on expectantly. 


You can feel their burdensome gaze. You feel you must do something. 


You don’t know how to conduct. You don’t know what to play. So you look out at the audience and decide to ask them “What do you want to see from me? What do you want me to play?”. 


And now they’re not so quiet… 


Well THAT wasn’t a good idea… the audience-members have taken this as an invitation to mayhem and chaos. Now that you’ve asked them, you’re getting all of their opinions. Some want you to play rock, some want you to play opera, others request spoken word. Everyone in the audience wants something different. 


Overwhelmed and bewildered, you turn to the orchestra


The audience is mayhem! So you ask the musicians “What do you want to see from me? What do you want me to play?”


But this is a mistake too. Just like the members of the audience, each musician has their own opinion on what’s best. The violinists say something different to the pianist who wants to play different music to the trombonist. 


Now you’re more confused, lost, and indecisive than ever. So the musicians decide to play as they please, and the result is a horrific, ear-splitting noise


You try to bring them under control


Though you’ve never conducted before, you try to wave your baton and create order, trying to please everyone – the musicians and the audience. Because you’re listening out to all these others though, you’re getting nowhere. 


You play the music you think most people in the audience want to hear, but the chorus of their chants and demands keep changing. And so you keep changing. And you keep creating noise, not music. 


We’ll come back to the music. Let’s talk about children who draw. 


Mark R. Lepper and David Greene ran a study on children drawing. They found young children who were already interested in drawing aged three-to-four, and split these children into three conditions. 


In the first condition, children were told they’d get a certificate and gold ribbon after drawing.


In the second condition, children were told they’d get the certificate and ribbon but only after they were done drawing. They didn’t know about the reward when they started drawing. 


In the third condition, there was no reward expected and no reward given. 


The children in the first condition who had expected a reward drew half as much afterward


That is, after six minutes of drawing and being given or not given a reward, it was only the children in the first group who’d expected a reward, who showed half as much interest in drawing afterward. 


The expectation of a prize seemed to reduce their interest in drawing. And remember, these children had been interested in drawing beforehand. Now, they were doing less self-directed drawing after the promise of an extrinsic reward. 


Had they come to think that they only drew for a gold ribbon, not because they enjoyed doing it? 


Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation


Intrinsic means, it comes from within. It is internally sourced. 


Extrinsic means it comes from outside. It is reinforced by others and external things. 


I intrinsically enjoy writing for example. As I discuss in the very powerful post on finding your intrinsic motivation titled ‘An Audience-of-None’, I would happily write for no one. That is the ultimate test of intrinsic motivation. 


Though some people would only write if they were paid to do it, or if other people praised them for doing it. Even praise is a form of extrinsic motivation. It’s not that these types of rewards can’t be combined powerfully, for instance, writing that I enjoy that also pays and gives me praise. 


But we can’t afford to blur these lines. 


If you read the following posts you’ll notice an interesting pattern, now that you understand intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Though, I’m not going to spell it out for you. Cruel I know, but the discovery is one you need to make. 


I will afterward give you a clue, by returning to music. 




The Minimum Viable Lifestyle

Astro the Dog

An Audience-of-None

Without-The-Box Thinking


These frameworks and ways of thinking have made my life better. They all have one thing in common. What is it? Can you figure it out? Feel free to comment below your brave guesses. 


How to Create Music


You reach a point in your performance when you realise that you can’t just listen to the audience or your musicians with you onstage. You realise that even when one of them pays you, another leaves. 


You realise that when one of them praises you, another two leave. 


You realise when some put you on a pedestal and tell you you are the greatest of conductors, that others criticise your music and make you feel wounded. Even though once you did not see yourself as a conductor, having thought of yourself as a great conductor felt good and created something that could be wounded. 


So how do you please the audience and the musicians?


Picture yourself on the stage, searching for the answers. Suddenly you start to ask a different question. 


What music do I want to play? 


You keep asking this question over time, each and every day, with every performance. 


What music do I want to play? 


And because you keep asking it, you get more and more clarity over the type of music you want to play. As such, you fire some of the musicians and get new ones in who want to help. After all, you can’t run an orchestra on your own can you? 


You also spend less time looking at the audience. You let some of the guests leave, though new people come in. Over time the majority of the audience who come want to be there to watch you play your music. And they don’t make noise. 


And that’s just it. One day you realise that the noise has stopped, and that all is calm, and that because the music now comes from you, it is at last a worthy performance. 


What music do you want to create? What is a performance you’d do for an ‘Audience-of-None’?


Who do you think of when you read this? Would this piece ‘open a door’ for someone else? If yes, share it with them. 

After all, the best way to open a thousand doors for you is to concentrate on opening doors for other people.

With Joe Wehbe – The Podcast

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