Who Knows What Motivates You

I’m reading yet another paper (pdf) on motivation and free and open source software.

One thing that most of the papers I have read have in common is that they use a survey to gather their information. However, most do not publish the actual survey so that I can see the questions they ask. Surveys will be biased by the people writing them. They will have a predefined list of things that they think are motivators and they will ask questions about them. In the last couple of these papers I have read the researchers are getting a very low response when asking questions about reputation. But really, who is going to actually admit to taking part in an open source project because it will enhance their reputation? It seems so much nobler to suggest it’s because of ideology or that you do it because it makes you feel happy.

The problem with asking people questions about the things that motivate them is that many people don’t actually know what motivates them. Provide them with a list of the sort of things you expect to motivate them and they are bound to find one that the like the look of better than the others.

They will have some idea as to the sort of thing it might be, or things they would like it to be, but they may not know the real reasons as it’s a very difficult thing to work out.

How do I know this? Well, I’ve read Maslow’s book on “Motivation and Personality“. I could give you very plausible reasons behind my actions and I can speak about motivations in an educated way that would convince many people that I know what I am talking about. But, for example, I haven’t got a clue what motivates me to write. I really don’t. Why do I spend hours writing on this blog? It could be a desire for intellectual stimulation; it could be that it’s an enjoyable pastime; maybe I think it will enhance my career prospects; or I want the respect of my peers…

But that’s all just made up from a list of things that I know are supposed to motivate people. I just don’t have a clue. And after reading Maslow I realise that I am not alone.

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