Sometimes you need extrinsic rewards

The other day I heard a great podcast on NPR’s Planet Money

In summary, the farmers in the town of Xiaogang were forced by the communist party to farm in a collective. They did not own the land and were required to work on a schedule dictated to them by the communist party. The government would take all the food that the collective grew and then share it with each family. There was no extrinsic reward for working harder or for growing more food. No matter how well the farmers did, they always received the same amount from the government. The amount of food that they received was insufficient in feeding their families.

“In Xiaogang there was never enough food, and the farmers often had to go to other villages to beg. Their children were going hungry.”

To solve this problem, the villagers agreed to split up the land into family plots. If a family worked hard and grew lots of food, that family could keep some of the food. Now, these families had the promise of an extrinsic reward for their efforts. Before the agreement, families would only start working when the whistle blew to start their work day. After the agreement, many families went out before dawn.

“At the end of the season, they had an enormous harvest: more, Yen Hongchang says, than in the previous five years combined.”

There can be great power to be rewarded for your efforts. There is also power to know that the harder you work, the more you will be rewarded for your efforts. If one of your goals is to earn enough to support your family, sometimes intrinsic motivation is not enough.

May you be rewarded for all of your efforts!


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