Neuroscience is indicating that we get our biggest thrill from the opportunity to pursue the fruits of the world, and the act of seeking the fruits is far more appealing than consuming the fruits we find. Research indicates that we have a “seeking” emotional system, and we get the most pleasure from activating this system. This discovery can provide some valuable insight for motivating teams.
First, consider that in laboratory tests, animals will over-excitedly self-stimulate their seeking emotional system as though there is nothing more important. Researchers have set up experiments where laboratory animals can self-stimulate this emotional system by pressing a button which applies electric jolts to the brain region responsible for the seeking emotion. When the animals are given the choice of either stimulating this emotional system or eating to stay alive, they will choose to stimulate this system. Of course humans may not make the same choice, but it is an indication of how rewarding it is to stimulate this emotional system.
How does this help us motivate business teams? We can activate our seeking emotional system through primal, direct means, in a business setting. When this system is activated, it boosts our motivation level for all activity, and as an extra benefit, it arouses our frontal neocortex, which is responsible for strategic thinking.
The seeking emotional system is activated by novelty. People get jazzed by the opportunity to learn or experience something new. As a leader of teams, we can keep things fresh by shifting some of the responsibilities periodically. Put people in new roles and give them new opportunities as often as possible. When feasible, organize work in projects that have a distinct beginning and ending, so teams periodically get to “start over” with a new set of objectives. Remember that even the best job in the world gets boring after you’ve been doing it for awhile.
The seeking emotional system is aroused by somatic, body-based methods such as rhythmic breathing, deep laughter, spontaneous play, and musical beats that resonate with the body. These techniques increase the level of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, which arouses motivation and can be a quick fix for burnout.
Similar to Dan Pink’s work on motivation, where he concludes that external rewards are not motivating for knowledge workers, I agree that conventional, external rewards are not the key to motivation. However, there is one conventional reward that should get a higher priority: time off. Time off allows us to activate our seeking emotional system off the job. For many of us, there’s nothing more thrilling than exploring a new country or engaging in a new sport. When we have these opportunities, it boosts our motivational level for all activities, including work.
As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.