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Understanding Extrinsic Versus Intrinsic Motivators in Business Gamification

The more you know about what motivates your target audience, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to design a gamification system that drives their behavior in just the right way.

Extrinsic motivators in business gamification

These are rewards that come from outside. Want to win a gold medal in the Olympics? That’s an external motivation. Ditto the desire to drive a fancy car or lose those last ten pounds. Of course, the most prominent extrinsic motivation is money. Every paid job in the world has an extrinsic motivation, be it salary, tips, commission, benefits, stock options, bribes, table scraps, or some combination thereof. An argument could also be made that power (or authority) is an extrinsic motivation.

Business gamification intrinsic motivators

Intrinsic motivations are motivations that come from within. Intrinsic rewards are things that make you feel good. For example, suppose you enjoy painting watercolors, and you merely want to improve your skills. That’s an example of an intrinsic motivation. You don’t want to become a better painter, so you can be a world-famous artist; you simply want, for your own personal reasons, to improve your painting because you enjoy painting.

With intrinsic motivation, the result is often growth — growth as an intellectual journey, growth due to challenges overcome, growth due to a broadening of your social connections, and growth due to the creation of order.

Intrinsic motivators are meaningful. They include things like developing a sense of

  • Identity

  • Self-expression

  • Status

  • Place in a community

  • Progress and direction

  • Accomplishment

Generally, people view intrinsic motivation as being “better” — perhaps more noble — than extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivators, they say, foster greatness, whereas extrinsic motivators foster greed. Indeed, recent research has shown that in modern life, intrinsic motivators can be more powerful than extrinsic ones.

Although it’s true that the holy grail of any gamification program is to foster intrinsically motivated behaviors, anyone who’s ever watched a rat in a cage knows food pellets — an extrinsic reward — can be pretty persuasive, too. Sure, it may be possible to drive a rat’s behavior using some other, more intrinsic method, but you can’t deny that the pellets do the job. The bottom line? Fostering intrinsically motivated behavior is great, and fostering extrinsically motivated behaviors is okay. Ideally, you’ll do both if you can. 0

The limitations of extrinsic rewards don’t have to be the end to your gamification agenda. Once those extrinsic rewards are understood, they actually become a wonderful lens with which to view your customers and employees. The more you understand what motivates your users, the stronger their relationship with your company will be.

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