The motivation space: Between debilitation and satiation

It is an empirical observation that the same person can perform the same action with different degrees of effectiveness depending upon his motivation. The difference between a person being motivated or not for a particular action is a difference, not in his capability or his knowledge or his skill, but must be in the cognitive state of that person when performing that particular action.

In common usage, “manipulation” has a negative connotation but “motivation” is generally regarded as being something positive. This usage reflects the mixing up of what elicits human behaviour on the one hand, with value judgements about the objectives or purpose of causing such behaviour on the other. The means of eliciting behaviour is merely a tool. Manipulating or motivating the behaviour of others is central to being human. Most social interaction involves the influencing of the behaviour of others. I take “motivation” – and particularly “motivation in the work place” – then to be just a particular subset of manipulation to elicit desired human behaviour. By empirical observation, I note that when a person is “motivated” he is not

  • more competent, or
  • more knowledgeable, or
  • more intelligent, or
  • more skillful, or
  • stronger or taller or smarter,

but he is

  • More effective
  • More focused
  • More cooperative
  • More “driven”
  • More dynamic
  • More result-oriented
  • More diligent …….

Thus I take the level of motivation to be a measure of the level of engagement of an individual in the actions he is performing (his behaviour). The more motivated he is the more “effective” his performance is, within the constraints set by his abilities. An unmotivated or demotivated person performs the actions in hand well below the limit of his capabilities. Motivation does not affect capability but it does affect performance.

My basic assumption in my “Engagement” theory of motivation (in preparation) invokes an analogy from the physical world. It is entirely qualitative and only very small parts are subject to quantification. I assume that all human actions (which we call behaviour) are analagous to motion in physics. Further, I take a change to be only in response to a “force of behaviour”. The challenge lies in describing and defining this force. Building on Maslow (Motivation and Personality – 1954) I assume that any human, at any given time, exhibits a “state of human condition” which is a composite of

  1. the levels to which his various needs are satisfied, and
  2. the levels of his various dissatisfactions from deficiencies that are not met

I take “satisfaction of needs” and “dissatisfactions due to deficiencies” as two separate scales, neither of which can be negative and which are not diametrically opposed. Of course there are many needs and many deficiencies and there is a level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with each of them,

I use the analogy of motivation as a force of human behaviour.  In physics

In physics, a force is any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object. A force can cause an object with mass to change its velocity (which includes to begin moving from a state of rest), i.e., to accelerate. A force has both magnitude and direction, making it a vector quantity. – Wikipedia

The analogous definition of motivation then becomes

With human behaviour, motivation is any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the behaviour of a person. Motivation can cause a person having free will to change behaviour (which includes the initiation of behaviour from a state of rest). Motivation has both magnitude and direction, making it a vector quantity. 

Human behaviour is only visible as human actions. For an object to be susceptible to a force it must have mass. The quantity analogous to mass is the freedom of the human to act rationally, i.e. his free will. The force acting on an object must be greater than the sum of all opposing forces in the direction of the acting force, to cause the object to respond. Just as a constrained object may not react to a force, so a constrained human may not react to a motivational force.

For every deficiency there is a tolerable level of dissatisfaction. If this level is exceeded then rational behaviour is no longer possible and an individual can and will only act to reduce the dissatisfaction to the exclusion of everything else. When a deficiency is in the intolerable region the person is debilitated and not amenable to any motivational force. It is the tolerable level of dissatisfactions which defines the behavioural space where manipulation and motivation can be brought into play to influence behaviour.

From Pillai “Engagement theory of motivation”

But it is not only deficiencies and intolerable levels of dissatisfaction which constrain the behavioural space. Rational behavior is also “ignored” when a particular course of behavior only brings more “satisfaction” of a need which has already been satiated. The “satiation boundary” is reached at relatively low levels of satisfaction with Malsow’s lower-order needs and increase sharply as higher-order needs are considered – “mentally satiated” line. At the highest orders of self-actualisation, needs can never be satiated.

(I use“sated” and “satiated” as being identical in meaning).

from Pillai “Engagement theory of motivation”

Intentional motivation can only function within the rational behavioural space and that space lies in the region where deficiencies are not debilitating and needs are not satiated.





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