Incentivized to Action

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Maybe understanding the reasons why people do things isn’t all that difficult. Maybe we’re not as complicated as we claim to be? Do our motivations say less about who we are and more about what we stand to gain? Can we ever act without that simple question, “What’s in it for me” being at the heart of all we do? In the end, all things boil down to this simple state of affairs: what do we stand to gain in doing what we do?

To consider the incentives for action is to seek answers to this question. We do not act without incentives; though, in some cases, hidden or delayed incentives may mask our true intentions. Does one donate blood only for the good of other people? At some level that blood donor senses an incentive to give: maybe pride or maybe just a free cookie- no matter what its a personal perk that drives intention.

Of course these incentives are far from simple. Great sacrifices often accompany our actions and a simplified observation that incentives run all decisions paints a very dire, cynical image of the world. Do we limit our perspectives of society by thinking in such terms? Perhaps a better model recognizes incentives as powerful triggers and mirrors. Incentives both drive future action and mirror what makes us work.

The binary of “carrot versus stick” is often used to consider programs to drive action. Prod with the stick in the form of taxes, punishment or denied pleasure. On the other hand, the carrot here is a reward or gift for action. One who wants a group of people to stop smoking might make insurance more expensive or provide free counseling. The choice remains with leadership and depends on a philosophy of motivation. What makes people change? Is it fear of punishment or desire for reward?

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