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  • Aashish Gupta

The In-extrinsic Motivation Economy

Traditionally services markets have revolved mostly around extrinsic motivation - “you do X for me and I pay you Y”. X usually happens to be something so boring and tedious that you’d rather have someone else do it (e.g. filing taxes) or so complex that you’d need years of training to gain the expertise (e.g. give medical advice, write code) or both (e.g. draft a legal notice).


In a pure extrinsic motivation economy, all that the service provider gets is the money you pay them. This usually results in terrible (or mediocre, at best) outcomes because you’re getting people to do something they don’t intrinsically want to do.


Two of my favorite cartoonists have telling takes on these situations:

At the other end of the spectrum is a purely intrinsic motivation economy - also known as gift economy. In such a case, people do stuff for you purely out of goodwill, because they want to do it anyway. The motivation comes from the pleasure they get from working on the task itself or from the sense of satisfaction in completing it, or from the good karma it earns them.


While I’m fascinated by gift economies, these systems often break down because they rely too heavily on good intentions and cooperation from all participants. Besides, the absence of a transaction means the absence of any contract - which basically means no one can be held accountable for the quality of what they deliver.


You with me so far? Cool.


So now that brings us to something that does work - “the middle path” (for fellow closet-Buddhists) - what I’m calling the In-extrinsic motivation economy - “you do X for me and I pay you Y, not because it’s boring but because you’re very good at it. Plus, you get to have all the fun of doing it”. Okay, that got pretty long. But you get my point.


In case you haven’t guessed it yet, TRVLbud works an in-extrinsic motivation economy.