What motivates people in Covid-era?

24 mart. 20
Lego Meetup Iasi by Atelierul de Idei

I have been waiting for some time before writing an article on the crisis subject. I wanted first to watch and analyse my own internal reactions, and then understand the people around. And by people meaning also business owners, brand designers, communicators, politicians, everyone (literally) has now an opinion on the Coronavirus crisis.

As the crisis is developing, people are living in unprecedented situations: high stress (due to the prospect of loosing jobs or business), uncertainty (you cannot plan ahead even for a week time), sudden lifestyle adjustment (self isolation versus intensive social life), sudden (or expected) resource scarcity. Every one reacts differently to this situation, trying to find a new "normal" or learning ways to adapt the new environment to their basic needs.

Jody Simpson, Ph.D., Academy4Motivation.com

We have all seen displays of extreme behaviors, such as supermarket hoarding for food and toilet paper supplies, shameless profiting from the situation by rising prices for high-demand products, mindlessly breaking the public health rules by going out in groups or hiding being previously exposed to high-risk areas.

Other extreme behaviors, from business owners point of view, could be promoting your "hyper-sanitised supermarket" or "human-interaction free plastic sealed bread" or "germ killing wall paint", by exploiting people's fear of inffection. Employers deciding over night to cut off jobs (while a weak before people were the company's greatest asset), or employees that are working from home while actually enjoying the time spent off-line manager's supervision? Or believing that everything will be ok and back to normal in a few months? Posting 20 year old pictures on social media for immediate validation and self-gratification?

Can we label these as extreme behaviors?

Taking it to public policy decisions, delaying strict measures for the risk of loosing potential votes, or hiding the real health risk situation, are they behaving in an extreme manner? Using the pandemic situation as a pretext for populist measures - is it extreme enough?

Another display of extreme behavior could be giving out for free what you previously sold for good money, since your business now needs deep reinventing (from free coaching hours to tons of webinars sharing your valuable knowledge and ideas, to food & coffee for the super-heroes healthcare workers), because extreme is not necessarily a bad thing.

I was watching my own internal reactions to whata is happening around: having to accept that I was not in control anymore, and seeing that most of the things already planned for 2020 vanished in less than a week, led first to wishing to let go of everything and abandoning all projects, then to an exhausting, extreme and frantically search of any available opportunities.

How do we understand the extreme behaviors we are witnessing (in ourselves and the rest) during this crisis?

There is a psychological tool for assessing people behavior, and most fortunately, I have been recently studying it. North American Professor Steven Reiss, Ph.D, conducted ground breaking research that led to the development of the "Science of Motivation" - "The 16 Basic Desires Theory of Human Motivation". This theory, scientifically validated by independent studies, can explain the extremes in human behavior during stressfull times, like this Corona-crisis. More than explaining, it gives you consistent tools to apply in order to self-motivate or support others to reach your purpose.

Each of us (irrespective of age, gender, culture, geography) is motivated by 16 basic human needs. What makes us unique individuals is the priority we place on each need. One need, for example, is the desire of Social Contact. Some people (the extroverts) place higher value on social contact, and hate being forced to self-isolate or work from home. About 20% of people (the introverts) value the other extreme of the same need, and show less desire of socialising with their peers. One of my highest valued needs is Power - so feeling out of control made me very frustrated in this situation. On the other hand, since another of the 16 needs is Order - and I have a low need for it (and a higher tendency for Spontaneity), a highly erratic situation rarely puts me off for good.

Prof. S.Reiss, Ph.D. - Multifaceted nature of intrinsic motivation: The theory of 16 basic desires (2004)

Professor Reiss developed a psychological test - Reiss Motivation Profile® RMP - to measure individual differences in how we prioritise the 16 basic needs. The insights obtained from each individual profile can give us information on why people behave the way they do.

The RMP measures motivation. Specifically, the test measures an individuals's intensity of motivation from weak to strong for each of the 16 scales. The test taker's responses are compared to norms based on 79,888 respondents in 23 countries across three continents, which produces a standard score for each of the 16 motives. A standard score that falls in the upper 20 percent of the population is considered to demonstrate a strong need for that basic desire, while a standard score that folls in the lower 20 percent of the population is considered to indicate a weak need for that particular desire. Thus, the RMP describes an individual's motivational profile based on how the person compares to others. If an individual scores as having a strong need for Power, for example, we know his need for achievement and consequuently his desire to work hard are greater than 80 percent of the population.

Maggi M.Reiss - www.idspublishing.com

Here is a real time example of the different ways in which people attempt to satisfy their basic needs (or desires). In less than a week, over half of world's population was forced to restrict free movement to an unprecedented level. Work from home has become the norm, where possible, when it was not replaced by (unfortunate) free time due to sudden unemployment.

An average household, composed of two active parents, one teenager, one pre-schooler and two grandparents suddenly had to live together 24/7. Two of the family members have a high need for physical activity, which is one of the 16 basic needs identified by Prof. Reiss. Not surpringsly, these two members hated being confined to the house premises. Two other family members, with a weak need for physical activity, were completely content to relax on the couch and watch Netflix as long as possible.

Tranquility, or the need for personal safety, is another basic need identified by Prof. Reiss. While confined in-house, the family members who place a high value on this need monitored the evolving pandemic and government measures on this subject. The family member with a strong need for Saving, another of RMP basic desires, was anxious to provide food and important supplies, on top on what she usually stocked for daily consumption. A strong need for Idealism, defined by Reiss as a desire for social justice, motivated some family members to donate to local NGOs to support deliveries of free food and coffee for local healthworkers.

The family members in this example were motivated by the natural desire to satisfy their most intense needs - to engage in behavior consistent with the values that matter most to them. Since we feel best when our needs are satisfied by our behavior, we believe that other people will be happier, too, if they would do what we do. This is called by Prof. Reiss "self-hugging" . We also engage, without knowing, in "everyday tyranny" - trying to change people adopt our values: "You would be happy just as me, if you would do what I did and worked for me".

According to Prof. Reiss's Theory of Motivation, a stressful environement is likely to exacerbate an individual's most intense needs. A collector becomes a hoarder. A leader becomes a dictator. During times of high stress, as the current crisis, the extreme behavior we are witnessing can be explained as:

  • an individual with a strong need for saving, who usually keeps a well-stocked pantry, will begin hoarding and stocking up excessive supplies of food and other products;
  • a person with a low need of Honour (defined as Expedient) will engage in exploiting the situation and increase price for sought-after commodities;
  • some one with a high need of Independence will likely engage in setting his own rules;
  • people with a strong need for Vengeance (defined as "confrontational" or "winners") will even engage in physical or verbal confrontations;
  • Someone with a strong need for Order, defined by RMP as a desire for structure, will become even more rigid in following daily routines; the opposite, someone like me, with a low need for order ("flexible, spontaneous'), will become even more unstructured, chaotic, and will jump in several projects without finishing any;
  • those with a strong need for Idealism will respond immediately to every appeal for donation and will impose "everyday tyranny" on the rest of the group, shaming the ones that are not so keen on doing charity work for public good (who probably are people whose self-interest is one of top values;
  • a risk taker (someone with a weak need for tranquility) may ignore advice on social distancing or may engage in completely new projects and business ideas seen as opportunities;
  • someone with a high need for understanding (defined as Curiosity) will be up-to-date with all estimations related to pandemic evolution;
  • a person with a high need for Eating will spend all the time cooking and posting on Social Media pictures about food.

If more people would understand that differences in values makes us unique, and would be tollerant with those whose values differ from our own, it would be a much better world.

Since we have a tendency to self-hug (embrace our own values) and passion for everyday tyranny (re-inforce our own values to the rest), we are likely to engage in conflicts of values, particularly during times of stress.

The extreme behaviors displayed by so many people during these extreme times can be not only explained, but also predicted, having basic knowledge of distinct individual motivators (from Reiss Motivation Profile assessment). People are always trying to satisft their most intense needs - but doing this in stressful times make their reaction to be more extreme,

For more information on the Science of Motivation, you can read Who Am I? book by Prof. Reiss. For a personalised understanding of own Motivation Profile, you need the help of a licensed Reiss Motivation Profile® Master (listed on official global site). For now, I am the only Romanian licensed RMP Master.

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