A hundred years ago, it was much easier to motivate people. You could switch people from an hourly rate to a piece-rate system, where they would be motivated to do repetitive tasks faster. But in the knowledge or creative work economy, those tasks are becoming rare.
Richard Ryan and Edward Deci pioneered the self-determination theory, which states that people are motivated when they can determine for themselves what to work on and how to do it.
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Autonomy is how much someone feels in control of their own choices - they have a say in what they work on and how they work on it. They don't feel micromanaged but empowered to pursue objectives and deadlines on their terms.
One way to figure out if you are leading from a place of autonomy versus control is to pay attention to how often you're giving them advice vs asking them questions designed to guide them in finding their own solutions.
Competence refers to our desire for control and mastery. Competence is about our natural desire to feel like we are learning and making progress towards a set of objectives.
Creating a sense of competence has more to do with what you don't do. Instead of only focusing on constructive feedback, ensure you also celebrate wins, big and small. When you do give constructive feedback, pair it with positive feedback and praise to remind them of the progress already made.
Relatedness covers our desire to connect and interact with other people. People are more motivated to take action when they're seen as pro-social.
Creating a sense of relatedness means ensuring people build connections with each other. It also means making sure people know the importance of what they're asked to do and how it relates to the rest of the team and organisation. If your team members know who they helped by their efforts, you can guarantee they'll work hard to help those people.
Motivation is a complex process to explain or to realize fully.
Motives are internal experiences that can be categorized into needs, cognitions, and emotions that are influenced by environmental events and social contexts. These internal and external forces can be used to increase motivation by targeting either physiological or psychological needs.
Some people take longer to develop the relevant building-block insights to progress in deep subjects like math. The ability to acquire understanding may vary from person to person.
It is highly unlikely that less intelligent people have a limit to deep subjects. The obstacle to learning advanced mathematics is that it may take you longer than a very smart person.