It’s nearly 80 years since Maslow published his theory of human motivation, and a lot has changed since then in our understanding of what motivates people to act.
Behind the scenes, we’ve started working on a new theory of motivation, which we will begin to reveal in the Autumn.
To shape it, we’re asking questions like:
- What is motivation?
- What are the key motivators?
- Can we create a codex of motivators?
- How can they best be grouped?
- What pragmatic tools would help changemakers use motivators to achieve positive social change?
There are different schools of thought when it comes to what motivates action, and they all operate under their own set of assumptions. Economics traditionally assumes that people act rationally to achieve personal benefit, for instance. While politics traditionally assumes that people vote for short-term personal benefits. And when Maslow shared his theory of human motivation in 1943, he talked about motivation in the context of human needs.
We know now, however, that a lot of the decisions we make are influenced by biases, heuristics and fallacies, and us humans are not always able to act rationally or in our best interest. There are also intrinsic motivators like the warm glow we get from buying a sandwich for someone who needs it, or the satisfaction of integrity and knowing you’ve acted in the interest of the greater good.
It’s perhaps also worth noting that need does not necessarily equate to motivation. While I know that I need to exercise, for instance, I’m instead more motivated by the intellectual stimulation I get from watching ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ – a pastime that I think we can all agree (Maslow included) is not a need.
To make sure we’re all on the same page and understanding what we mean when we talk about motivation, it helps if we bring things back to basics.
Motivation (noun): A reason or reasons for
wanting to act or behave in a particular way.
When we’re identifying motives, we’re asking ourselves “what is it that makes someone want to do something?”
Our current assumptions when it comes to motivation are as follows:
- Assumption #1: Motivation is dependent on context. Different people are motivated to act or behave differently by different things in different contexts.
- Assumption #2: Motivation is not fixed. The same person might be motivated by different things and in different ways to do different things, and in different contexts, and at different times.
- Assumption #3: Motivations (much like ogres and onions) have layers. The first reason someone gives for doing something is unlikely to be the core reason for them doing it, and like an annoying four-year-old we can try to identify the core motivators by continually asking why. We believe motivating factors can be grouped into nexuses, and that those nexuses are interconnected and layered.
Building on Assumption #3, in the coming months we’ll be starting to pull together a codex of motivators. If you’re interested in being a founding contributor, please do get in touch and share your thoughts. And if you want to be the first to hear about our work in this space, you can sign up to join our mailing list below.
Be a MOVIE star
In the meantime, you might find it helpful to know how we believe motivation fits into the behaviour change formula. We call it the MOVIE model of behaviour change, and it’s designed to improve the effectiveness of your behaviour change interventions. It’s an equation:
Motivation + Visibility + Ease-to-act = Effective behaviour change interventions
In practice this means you need to be motivated to act (ideally in the moment you want to do it), the desired behaviour needs to be visible to you (again, ideally in the moment you want to do it), and the action needs to be as easy as possible. Ideally, easier to do than not do.
In September, we’ll be exploring motivation at the World Social Marketing Conference in Brighton – let us know if you’re attending! And if you’d like to chat about anything related to designing and implementing behaviour change interventions, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.