Motivation depends on culture: the art of choosing


You might ask what could be the connection between motivation and choosing? Let me go even one step further: In an international working environment how do you make sure that all employees are fully motivated, especially considering that the cultural environment directly influences the preferred leadership style?
Sheena Iyengar in her new book “The Art of Choosing” provides example after example that our choices aren’t always impulsive or isolated, but are often influenced by years of preference building. For years Sheena Iyengar has focused her research on the topic of choosing (she is actually a teacher at Columbia Business School on topics like global leadership and creativity). The general view is that having choices is a good thing, but is it actually true across cultures?
In her book Ms. Iyengar uses scientific evidence to explain the complex calculus that goes into our everyday choices and then goes on to show the preference for having choices or contrary having a given setting strongly depends on the cultural upbringing. One of her example involved college students: When Iyengar asked Japanese and American college students to record all the choices they made during a day, the Americans included things like brushing their teeth and hitting the snooze button. On the other hand the Japanese counterparts did not perceive those actions as a choice.
Another example showed how two ethnic groups of school children reacted on being given choices. The Anglo kids solved the most anagrams and played the longest, when they could pick their own puzzles and markers, while the Asian children did their best when they thought they were following their mothers’ wishes. To the Anglo children, their mothers’ instructions felt like bossy constraints. The Asians by contrast defined their own identities largely by their relationship with their mothers. Their preferences and their mothers’ wishes, Iyengar writes, “were practically one and the same.” Doing what they thought their mothers wanted was their first choice.
As a last step let me connect then the examples above with a real business world example: Sealed Air Corporation (bubble wrap) experienced a high rise in motivation at their pilot site with the change from assembly line structure to small teams. Then when moving on to a more Asian employee based site, the whole concept of freedom of choices at work was met with a highly decreased output, while motivation completely crashed. Only with the introduction of guidelines the motivation soared again.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

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