Episode 3

Published on:

4th Nov 2020

Ep.003 - Intrinsic Motivation and the Jiujitsu Point - Sharath Jeevan

[00:00:00] Sharath: There's always what I'd call a jujitsu point in a system, right? Where there's a role. There's a kind of person in the system who is very close to tipping, right. They really want a better outcome on the motivation side. But something is conspiring against them.

Clement: Today we speak to Sharath Jeevan, one of the world's leading experts on how to practically re-ignite the inner drive or intrinsic motivation in our lives.

He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Roehampton University for his contribution to the field in 2017, was elected an Ashoka Fellow in 2014 and was recognized as one of the United kingdom's 10 leading social entrepreneurs in 2019.

But when it comes to his work in deeply understanding intrinsic motivation, he gained firsthand experience through funding STiR Education in [00:01:00] 2012. STiR is the world's largest initiative to improve interest stigmatization, specifically in education. It now supports 35,000 schools today across India, Africa, and Southeast Asia. That basically equates to 200,000 teachers and 6 million children with a better understanding of their own motivation in life.

Sharath: Social entrepreneurship is a prime example. We're almost weaned away from intrinsic motivation and trained to really do things because there's something at the end.

Clement: What's especially interesting about Sharath's story is his experience as an entrepreneur himself. Prior to starting STiR, he held a senior corporate role at eBay, and then launched his own startup, a social network platform called ContactDetails.com -- this was before the Facebook era!

[00:02:00] Here to dive deeper into the connection between intrinsic motivation and entrepreneurship, is Sharath Jeevan.

Laura: What is intrinsic motivation? What is the definition for you of what that is? Because I think those two words, intrinsic motivation just seems to encapsulate so much of the work that you do and, and, and who you are. And I just would love to hear what you have to say around that definition.

Sharath: Thanks, Laura. And yeah, I think for me that the real definition of intrinsic motivation is about doing something...really because it's inherently rewarding and fulfilling in its own right. Not because of the external reward or status or money or any other kind of benefit you receive from pursuing that thing. So it's kind of doing something for its own sake, in a nutshell.

And it sounds very simple, but I think in, in many areas of our life, and I think social entrepreneurship is a prime example, [00:03:00] we're almost weaned away from intrinsic motivation and trained to really do things because there's something at the end. I think that's my sort of mission in life, if you like, is to try and change that balance our lives and see if we can...see if we can challenge ourselves as people, as societies, as organizations to rethink that and apply that to how we live and work really more generally.

Laura: And why do you think it's so hard to align this motivation with the actual work that we do or our everyday lives? And, and I mean, I think that that's a challenge that so many of us face.

Why do you think it is such a challenge?

Sharath: Yeah, I think what we've done a lot of, in many areas of life stories, Laura, is we've sort of confused what motivation thinking would call the true motivators, right? And with what it would call hygiene factors. So hygiene factors, that's a strange name, but it's really something where basically if that thing is not there, it will demotivate you.

Right. So let's say, you know, Uh, decent working [00:04:00] conditions, right? If you're an office where you can't hear, you don't have space to put your laptop down, if people constantly disturbing you, that's clearly going to be a big de-motivator. But one of the really interesting things that motivation theory suggests is that that same thing will not deeply motivate you.

Right? So we've seen this right right now with COVID where, you know, we've seen, for example, many tech companies invest in these really gleaming campuses that look beautiful. They are beautiful. The free lunches, the cafeteria has the gourmet chefs and bizarrely...when you talk to most tech workers, they don't miss those campuses that much.

And so it says a lot. I think again, you need to make sure that you cover for these hygiene factors. Pay is another example, but... just constantly increasing pay is unlikely to make you deeply fulfilled and motivated at the same time. So it's just trying to separate what really deeply motivates us from what deeply de-motivates us and understanding the difference there is really critical.

Laura:  That's so interesting. [00:05:00] I didn't, I didn't even think to examine the fact that there might be these two facets to motivation even in my own life. And as you said, I think during this pandemic it's really shone light on, you know, the very separate... uh, those, those two types of, as you called them hygiene....

remind me again?

Sharath:  Hygiene factors. Yeah.

Laura: Hygiene Factors. Yeah. I can see those clearly already. What are, when you think of these two facets to motivation, is there a way to hack that? I mean, I'm always looking for hacks, but is there a way to really, almost try to spearhead more holistic motivation in life, where it really brings you forward and not just, you know, keep you steady.

Is there a way to hack that?

Sharath: Yeah. So a lot of the work I'm doing is really thinking about how we can try to hack that basically in different areas of our lives, not just hack, but also deeply kind of reconfigure, I think, using that tech wording as well. A lot of the research over the last three decades has shown that three things really matter in terms of intrinsic motivation.

[00:06:00] One is a sense of purpose. Um, the second is a, is a sense of autonomy. The third is a sense of mastery. So PAM, if you want an easy acronym. And... purpose, I think, is probably the most interesting one and the one that probably is most important in the social entrepreneurship space, of course. And I define purpose really very simply about, you know, can you see how what you're doing, if it's a work context in work, how it really helps and serves others?

And it's really interesting how much of modern work today, you know, even as a social entrepreneur, it almost conspires against creating a sense of purpose, right? It's very difficult in organizations to really understand how, what you as an individual do ultimately helps someone else.

You know, if you can hack that link and make that a stronger link for the person to see it is a very, very deep source of motivation that will sustain and probably grow over time as well.

Laura: It's so hard because it's, I mean, manufacturing purpose seems [00:07:00] an impossible... it seems like an impossible thing to do.

And if it's such an important part of that equation, and, and I agree that probably the most interesting part of that equation. I've always been curious, you know, how do I, even in my own life, how do I ensure that I am fixed on that purpose and that I at least cultivate that purpose in the things that I do?

And sometimes I really do feel like it's a hard... it's almost a hard job to find it sometimes. And I know in all the work that you've done, I mean, you've worked with children. You've worked with, you know, organizations, individuals, social entrepreneurs. Do you find there's a difference in, I guess maybe in, in the age that we are when we discover our purpose or even in the types of roles that we have, is there a difference between, you know, all of these different groups you've worked with when it comes to identifying purpose and really, and really being able to, to work with that?

Versus, you know, I've known there's periods of my life when I feel like I've had no purpose. Is that completely ad hoc and random, or is there a pattern to finding [00:08:00] that purpose?

Sharath:  Really great question, Laura. So. I think what I've seen is that most of us start any kind of job or career with some intrinsic sense of purpose.

Right? I mean, so let's take teachers as an example. Most teachers do go into teaching with some sense of, you know, I'm here to help change a child's life. Right. But we are incredibly good in our systems that are work systems of putting barriers in front of people that obscures, that, that deep sense of purpose.

So in a teacher's example, you'll find that, you know, they're often told... they often feel they're accountable to the ministry or the bureaucracy, they're part of, right. So they're told to cover the syllabus, for example, irrespective of what the child is actually understanding, what the learning or not.

And so very quickly, they move away from being a, sort of an agent for change to being an agent of the state. And it completely shifts their mind from what they're there to do. And it's really [00:09:00] difficult to bring it back. And, you know, my work over the last nine years with STiR education has been to try and see if we can rekindle that.

And I think we can. I'll be working this year with about 200,000 teachers and about 35,000 schools and reigniting their intrinsic motivation. But it was a battle because the system was so... most education is so, so, so designed against that. So I think there's that in every career, I'm happy to talk more about social entrepreneurship in a second, but I do think there's something in all of us that, that want that purpose and often has it to begin with.

It's not an individual thing. It's much more about how do we configure the system, the culture, the organization around us to rekindle that purpose and reframe work so that purpose comes to the fore and it's not just hidden away in the background.

Laura: That's a really, really interesting point, connecting purpose to almost systems redesign in some sense. I often, you know, at The Spaceship, we're talking a lot to entrepreneurs and, and, and, and reminding them and reminding [00:10:00] ourselves that to change the system, sometimes it just requires... it doesn't necessarily have to, require a...an innovation at global scale. Sometimes it's the smallest part of the systems that can make an exponential change happen and an exponential shift happen.

My follow up question to this cause it's really, I had no idea that this would be part of this conversation, but the question that comes to mind is at what point do you take the challenge of looking at a... like you said in education, an entire system that is working against these teachers.

At what point do you see it as an opportunity to almost link your motivation too, and at what point do you maybe have to pivot and potentially give up? I keep thinking of, you know, these entrepreneurs that I've spoken to in the last week for this podcast and others, where we talked a lot about, you know, finding that moment where you realize, okay, it might be time to shift gears.

And yet we sometimes have such a strong motivation that we don't want to. We don't want to [00:11:00] give up this idea, this view, this understanding that we have and when it's to shift entire system, I can't imagine even with, you know, these teachers and education, at what point do you feel like that... where's the limit? Where's the limit to that?

Sharath: Yeah. I honestly think there, there isn't a limit. I think it's more of a, how smart we can understand motivations of different actors and in systems, Laura. And I think, um, let me take it from the system point of view first, then we can talk about maybe the social entrepreneur, what motivates them and, obviously I'm a social entrepreneur myself, and, you know, thought about these things myself and suffered many of these same challenges. But on the system side, what we, what I've learned over the years is that there's, there's always what I've called a jujitsu point in a system, right?

Where there's a, there's a role, there's a kind of person in the system who is very close to tipping, right. They really want a better outcome on the motivation side. But something is conspiring against them. So let me just give an example in education. What we found was that, of course, teachers often were [00:12:00] very cynical, very de-motivated to start with, but our jiujitsu point was the person who supervised teachers and systems.

They were people who often were given responsibility for running and overseeing, say 15 schools and in a state in India, or maybe 20, 30 schools in a country like Uganda, What we learned about those people was that there was almost no recognition for their roles, right? They were being paid by the government and they were, they were often recruited through quite... fairly rigorous selection processes, with the sell that they would go and support other teachers to become better.

Right. They were often teachers themselves, at least the best ones were often...had done it themselves. But what happened is the reality of the job, you know, they have, they came in with this kind of intrinsic motivation, but the reality of the job has nothing to do with, with improving things for teachers.

It was basically a reporting role, right. To make sure data was shared back with the central ministry. So we know they would spend their day is going school to school, or sometimes on WhatsApp checking where the toilets were [00:13:00] built or whether midday meals were being served. Right. And these are important things, I'm not trying to play them down, but that's not what motivated them to go into these roles. Right.

So I'm just thinking, how do we try and harness their motivation? What was nice is there was a really powerful point of leverage because that one individual was probably indirectly supporting about 200 teachers, typically.

So, if you could work with one and change them, you're going to change 200 teachers, probably about four or five thousand lives, very quickly. So we started to create a program, a way of working with them, supporting them, motivating them to reimagine their role. And now, you know, we're working with thousands of those types of individuals, and many of them are really heroic and inspiring ones, across about 35,000 schools, now.

And so, yeah, it's often finding where's that, that point where the person really wants to be re-energized they have a lot of influence in a system and there's a nodal effect [00:14:00] where that person immediately then transmits energy below them. But also what we realized is they would also transmit energy up. So their supervisors or managers are often in districts.

They started to take notice and attention, and we ended up being able to work with them and change their mindsets and motivation. And so really by creating those strong relationships all the way through a system, through strong role modeling, we could really shift how the whole system behaved and functioned and behaved culturally as well.

Laura: It's so revolutionary actually, because you know, you describing these positions, you know, these individuals who, who might've gone to school in education, and really had this passion for education, almost climbing the ladder in a sense, and getting into these supervisor roles, removes... it brings you so far from the so called beneficiaries or, you know, the students themselves.

And yet these are oftentimes, you know, if we think of the meritocracy of so many of our systems, [00:15:00] those who rise above will enter these roles that remove them from what made them rise above in the beginning, right, what really influenced them to go into this space.

So ,it's so... I actually think this point of view is so revolutionary in so many senses, because if we don't start doing that, I guess the flip side of the coin is that more and more, you will have this almost this disconnect. I mean, I know individuals who no longer even want to go into education because of the status quo.

Um, and so. We're we're seeing more and more teachers who are burnt out or don't even enjoy being there, or kind of have lost their sense of, of direction. And, and like you said, the impact of that, how many students will be taught by a teacher like that? And what is the impact of that? I think that's really, really interesting.

So you mentioned 35,000 schools. I do want to get to, you know, you yourself, you've been a social entrepreneur, you were recognized as one of the UK is 10 leading social entrepreneurs in 2019. So you have a strong tie to [00:16:00] that space as well. And before we leave this topic of the school systems, I, I am just curious though, you know, in working with teachers and with students as well, do you think that we have, when it comes to, you know, intrinsic motivation from our childhood or from, you know, our school times.

Have you noticed anything when it comes to comparing, you know, motivations that students might have at the beginning of life versus much later on or when, when you entered the workforce? I'm just wondering if there's anything that's come out from your work in that space.

Sharath: Yeah, no, I think we're really... Um, it's a sort of human tragedy, I think, because I think we're really not preparing young people for the world they're going to be facing, right, when they come out. In every sense. I think part of this is that we've tried to reduce education to a set of numbers, of numerical targets.

And those are important. We need some basics forms of accountability. But what has happened, I think we've sort of made those numbers of things that are measurable... it's a bit like, you know, Mark Twain and he talked about the trunk and the [00:17:00] lamppost, right. That, uh, you know, the lampposts are good for support, but rarely for illumination.

And I think there's a, a parallel here because what we can measure in education to this point... often it doesn't really capture the full richness of the human experience. And I think a lot of what education needs to be about is about how we help kids to learn to learn. And to love the process of learning. So they can adapt to whatever life throws at them.

And it's such a simple concept, but almost everything we're doing in education is moving against that direction. We're doing, you know, overloading a lot of content on people, we're trying to go for more and more standardized tests, we're trying to make curriculum much more homogenous. And so I think it is destroying the intrinsic motivation of young people.

And I think we're also, um, labeling kids very, very early in their school careers and putting them into boxes, that really, rather than actually unleash them and allow them to reach their potential, it's putting them into cages, really, where we're [00:18:00] actually limiting options rather than opening up for them.

So I don't think what we're doing in education is, is right at all. I, I, I've been very proud of the work I've been doing over the last nine years within education to try and change that working with governments. And I think we're starting to see some pretty exciting signs that you can change this culture.

My big regret, I guess honestly, is that I wish I'd had this conversation with governments, with parents and with employers....

Listen for free

Show artwork for The Spaceship Podcast

About the Podcast

The Spaceship Podcast
Giving the mic to Impact Entrepreneurs Globally!
The Spaceship Podcast is part of an Impact Entrepreneurship Masterclass called The Spaceship. We're enabling status quo rebels to tackle our world's toughest problems through business. This podcast is where we bring the theory to life by featuring thought leaders and impact entrepreneurs from around the world.
Join The Spaceship Master Class

About your host