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My Problem With Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic & Extrinsic Sources of Motivation

I was preparing a slide deck for my Creativity & Innovation students today when I had an insight. I have a research problem. I used to really enjoy research, especially writing, but I even enjoyed statistical analysis and data collection. I’m not enjoying it right now and I find other things to do instead of doing the work that needs to be done. This blog post is one of those things.

But I figured out (I think) one key reason that research is a burden right now. I’m completely motivated to publish. Nothing else matters. I won’t do crappy work, but I will absolutely work on your paper whether or not I’m interested in it, because one more publication is one step closer to tenure. My motivation is one hundred percent extrinsic at this point. If you had some crazy post-modern paper and wanted me to try and push it across the finish line it wouldn’t matter that I think the entire post-modern movement (in academia) is a waste of time. I’d make it flow. I’d make it easy to read, I’d try to be convincing.

To me, that sounds a lot like intellectual prostitution. But I need the results of getting good (highly ranked) papers published. So far I’ve avoided writing things that I flat disagree with, but I can imagine myself doing it. I believe that I will be much happier, and counter intuitively, more productive once this tenure thing is out of the way. I spend more time writing when I enjoy what I’m writing about. I write better when I’m interested in what I’m writing about. It will be a good thing. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an old trick that our mind plays on us that some imagined state in the future will be better than the state you’re in now, but in this case I believe that it may be true. In the mean time, do you have any A or B journal material that needs polished?

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