When we speak about motivations there are many important differences between riding and driving. Put carrots and sticks aside.

It’s time to drive! It’s time to envision your destination and create the conditions for better journeys.

Whilst for centuries the so called carrots and sticks where considered a standard to encourage or inhibit behaviours, it’s time to put them part. Even if you want to ride a donkey.

You may think that after all there are some circumstances when they aren’t all bad. They can be effective for rule-based routine tasks where there’s little intrinsic motivation to undermine and not so much creativity to kill. Carrots and sticks are more or less considered effective for instance if those giving such rewards offer a rationale for why the task is necessary acknowledge that it’s boring and allow people autonomy over how they complete it.

Carrots and sticks were considered a good strategy to rule people and convince them to do something they wouldn’t do in normal circumstances. Whether it was completing a job or obeying someone. They may have had a grip in times where animals or people could only look down at the pavement, planting seeds, harvesting, or working in close alienating industrial spaces keeping the same posture for hours. 

It would work only for people within the Plato’s cave (Allegory of the cave). As Plato’s say in his book “Republic” (514a–520a), once the prisoner would get out of the cave and get used to it, he could look up in the sky, admire the stars during the night and realise that humans can govern and manage their own life, they cause their own reality and they can shape what they see. For the ones who are able to admire the stars in the sky, intrinsic motivation is more powerful.

Don’t misunderstand: carrots and sticks wouldn’t suit mid-long term education or motivation not even for the prisoners within the cave. As an animal in a cage would sooner or later look for his freedom and try to obtain it, forgetting any carrot they saw or received.
Whatever is the environment, wrongly used prizes and punishments don’t work, don’t last and don’t create a desired or desirable effect for no one, giver or receiver.

In a world where people have to take complex decisions and find creative solutions, while working from office, home, or a shared space,
being available on multiple time-zones and with no fixed schedule, it is paramount to share the same principles, values, vision and mission to achieve the desired goal. 

Simple, repetitive tasks are now -in many places and industries- assigned to robots. They do not need motivation. Systems are becoming more intelligent every day. Computers can beat the GO world’s champion, play piano, create videos, painting and dream. Concepts similar to sticks, carrots, reinforcements signals would be obsolete even in AI and for ML model training. Our unprecedented times, digital times, are less deterministic and way more complex than a stubborn donkey.

Here nine plus one reasons why it’s time to evolve our motivational models. Some of them have been scientifically explored and summarised by Daniel H. Pink in his bestseller “Drive” (2010).

  1. Carrots and sticks often exhaust intrinsic motivation, making people less passionate.
  2. They cause disengagement and diminish performance
  3. They kill creativity, innovation, desire to solve problems.
  4. They crowd out good behaviour.
  5. They encourage shortcuts, cheating and unethical behaviours.
  6. They tend to create addictions, a form of slavery for who receive and who give them.
  7. They can foster short-term thinking.
  8. Our world is not the same anymore. It changes at a faster rate than ever before. Whether there is an ongoing pandemic or not.
  9. As Prof. Carol Dweck wrote in her book “Mindset” (2006) we shouldn’t praise success and punish failure. We should celebrate effort, recognise progress, encourage learning.
  10. The bonus reason: People are not donkeys and they aren’t all the same. Human mind is a marvellous complex system that doesn’t work in the same way for everyone. Cyclically humans get out of Plato’s cave, discover the sky, get inspired by beauty, nature, art, humankind, technology, they get motivated by their passions, enjoy the flow of a pleasant activity, understand the power to master their own life. Our life.

PS: Donkeys are beautiful sensitive animals. Treat them well.