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Self-Determination Theory: Autonomy, Relatedness, Competence

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As much as people like talking about Maslow’s Pyramid, we already know there’s little theoretical basis for it. So it’s very fascinating to see alternate models that tries less strict “tiered” ways to approach the issue, like the self-determination theory by Edward L. Deci.

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The theory has three components that can be effectively be used in a business, project or group context:

  • Autonomy (aka Agency): people need to perceive that they have choices and that they can self-determine what to do. This is why most of the top-down management approaches fail: because there’s a difference between setting a vision and imposing activities.
  • Relatedness: people need to care about and be cared about by others. Feel connected without ulterior motives.
  • Competence: people need to feel challenged, contributing to the cause and being effective. It’s a very close component to the Flow mental state.

One interesting aspect of these three elements is how much all of them are related not to extrinsic motivations but intrinsic ones, and more specifically to finding a meaning.

I can add that most of the activities that managers do that go against the three principles above are often related to the manager’s own fears, or the fears of the people above. The usual command-and-control approaches, micro-managing, task-oriented ones come all from the fear of not doing enough, not being good enough and so on.

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