Lego Color Bricks


I am just catching up on some old Wired Magazine reading and I found this gem in the Mr. Know-It-All advice column.

A parent wrote in asking if he should motivate his daughter to clean up her Legos by instructing her to sort them by color when putting them away. This was intended to make it more interesting.

So why not let your kid decide? Let her dictate the system. Let there be a different system every time. That will generate excitement about cleaning up, instead of resentment. And excitement is the key to cleanup time, if not to life itself.

My Take

Motivation is a complicated topic and there is enough in this simple question for a week’s worth of EID articles. I have four chapters on motivation in my forthcoming book (yes, shameless plug ☺). Mr. Know-It-All chastised the parent for choosing the attribute to sort by in this top down fashion. Instead, he recommends letter her choose. Perhaps one day she will choose color. But another day she might choose to sort by shape. Or size.

He doesn’t say this explicitly, but this shifts the motivation to intrinsic, which is generally the most effective kind. This is especially true with kids.

“interest not only guides goal-related behaviors, but also aids in their management” and that “the costs of effort may be offset or buffered against if one has a strong affective interest in the goal being pursued and if it is personally significant.”

To add another level of complexity, there are individual differences in motivation. Intrinsic may work best for most kids, but not all. Am I (and Mr. Know-It-All too) overgeneralizing? There is a particular profile trait called “The Collector”. Sorting into sets would be good for people with this trait. But for a more extrinsically motivated daughter, the promise of a cookie when she is done might work better. Or perhaps dad should offer to do it with her (social/collaborative motivation). Or race her to see who can clean up the most bricks (social/competitive motivation).

Your Turn

Any parents out there with some personal insights from experience? Or perhaps you have faced this as a manager trying to motivate your team on a less than exciting component of a project?

What has worked for you?

Image Credit: Alan Chia</em>

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