Mar 23, 2022
Books Driving Change: Sharath Jeevan and Intrinsic
Matthew Bishop (MB): Hello, this is Matthew Bishop with Books Driving Change. And today I'm talking with Sharath Jeevan, who is the author of_ __Intrinsic: A Manifesto to Reignite Our Inner Drive_. Sharath is a social entrepreneur who came out of the business world, consulting world, and helped launch STIR Education -- which is an organization that helps teachers improve their performance through their better motivation and sharing of insights -- he can elaborate on that -- in many countries, including India and Indonesia, and some parts of Africa. And now he runs Intrinsic Labs, which we'll talk a bit about as well, I hope.
The audience for this show, Sharath, is people who are conscious of this crisis that we've been living through in the pandemic, [and how that] has revealed a need for greater public service to re-engage people with talent and insight and leadership capacity into the public realm of public service. And I wondered if you could say in a sentence for them -- why they should read your book?
Sharath Jeevan (SJ): Thanks Matthew, real pleasure to be on the show. And I think it's so important for those of us leading change in public service to know what deeply motivates ourselves as individuals and leaders. And that idea of really trying to find lasting motivation from within for ourselves, really with a view that that can help us motivate the people around us -- our teams, if we've got teams in our work, but also, of course, as citizens. Our work is ultimately geared towards that, and that applies, whether we're public servants, or we're political leaders, or trying to affect change, in the social sector, or nonprofit sector, etc. And these are universal themes the book talks about.
MB: In the book, you set out in a powerful way a number of the trends that have caused many people to lose touch with what it is that motivates them from within and to be driven by external factors - as to what you call “extrinsic”. To the extent that you really feel there's a huge crisis in the world of loss of connection with ourselves, and that that's underlying many of the issues that emerge all over the place, in different aspects of life, and is proving dysfunctional in many parts of the world. But could you just spell that out for us? What is the key problem that you think we need to solve at this point and that _Intrinsic _is setting out to solve as a book?
SJ: Yes, I think it's moving our dial, that motivational dial, [away] from extrinsic or external factors. So for example, in the world of work, we would think a lot about pay, about status, how fancy our job title is, how fancy our office is. These are critical things and we're not saying they're not important -- many people in the world don't have them, we need to make sure they do. But for those of us who do have those, they have a diminishing effect over time. That was a ceiling effect.
I was talking to a trader in the City of London who got a £21.5 million bonus for the year. And his first reaction when his boss told him the news was, I had to work harder, because I know that someone else down the corridor got more than me. So that idea that there's never enough in some of these things, but we can keep chasing them, [although] that won't give us fulfillment, happiness, and actually won't give us success in the long term either. What we've got to do is move that motivational belt inwards to thinking about how we can really do what we do -- particularly in public service, because it's genuinely fulfilling, motivating, and rewarding.
It's a bit like driving an electric car compared to a car driving on heavy diesel -- it should feel enjoyable in its own right. And we know the key pillars of intrinsic motivation are around “purpose” -- that sense of how work helps and serves others -- and “autonomy” -- that sense of us being in control of our destiny, as public policy leaders. And finally, becoming a “master” -- or becoming a better and better leader over time. We never get to perfection, but we're getting and developing and growing. So purpose, autonomy and mastery are key to us really moving that dial inwards. And we know that it's much more likely to lead us to be happy, fulfilled, and successful.
MB: One of the things you do very well in the book is marshall a lot of academic research that's supportive of your claim on intrinsic motivation. And I think maybe "purpose" in particular has become one of those buzzwords that I think everyone is talking about -- a lot of company leaders, a lot of political people, saying we need to have purpose, clear and everything. Just what is the evidence that purpose matters and can be a game changer? And, with a slightly cynical hat on, how do we tell real purpose, real change making purpose, from the sort of bullshit PR purpose that a lot of people might be inclined to say [they have], if they're under pressure, in these leadership roles at the moment to try and sign sound appealing to millennials?
SJ: I think that you put the nail right on the head. A lot of problems we are having with this purpose discussion is that it has been taken to this PR territory, and thousands of staff are subject to these kinds of corporate workshops, or government workshops, where they're bombarded with purpose statements from the company and so on.
What I tried to look at on "purpose" was look at that really simple definition. I was trying to define it from first principles around just how what we do helps and serves others -- take away all the airy fairy language and so on. The challenge, I think, is that actually organizations are getting better and better, to be absolutely fair, on defining organizational purpose -- why that company, or how it helps and serves others. I don't think we've yet cracked the question of how do we, as an individual leader in public service, contribute to that purpose. So what tends to happen is we get hired into a job, let's say a government somewhere, civil service, and I'll be honest, [you] seem like a robot who's there to fulfill the purpose of the government department or division. The challenge though I think is, in today's world, especially with younger workers, we ourselves want to feel a sense of a personal mission statement. And by that, what is our own North Star?
Let me just give you mine as an example: I help organizations and leaders to reignite inner drive by writing, coaching, consulting. So I help organizations and leaders to reignite inner drive by writing, coaching, consulting -- just a very, very simple 15-word statement. But it's a really helpful North Star that helps me remember why I'm doing what I do. And if I joined an organization -- I work for myself now, but I do write, consult for one, as you mentioned -- the question I'm asking is how am I contributing to that organization's purpose statement? But also, how are they contributing to mine? How are they helping me achieve mine? And when I think both things are in harmony, we've got a great marriage between an employee and an organization. I think we have a great motivational deal in place. But the temptation is we tend to forget the individual and forget that we all need that for ourselves as much as needed for our organizations.
MB: And then you also talk about "autonomy" and "masteries". What's the key issue today with autonomy, and what do you mean by that?
SJ: If you look at political life today, I'd argue we're in a really difficult autonomy situation, one where we've got two extremes. I talked about some of the research in the book about political leadership where you can have the extreme. For example in the U.S., perhaps both houses where it's almost like individual lawmakers -- it's Clint Eastwood extreme, or if you like, a Lone Ranger type behavior. But the other extreme where when you're an MPs, often in the U.K., they are often micromanaged. And how do you have the right balance between these two things is important. In enough autono…