Leadership Nudge® 340 – Book Review: Why We Do What We Do

February 10, 2021by Sandy Wilmer0

In 1995, Edward Deci published his book entitled Why We Do What We Do. It outlines his Self-Determination Theory and discusses extrinsic and intrinsic motivation with scientific research to support the theory. It’s a great read and helps explain why Intent-Based Leadership works. We recommend reading it to learn more.


I recently read this book, Why We do What We Do by Edward Deci.  He wrote the book and it was published back in 1995, which is before I was the Captain on Santa Fe, and I wish I had it then.  At the core of the book is about the difference between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation, why intrinsic motivation for humans is better, and how to achieve it.  

This is exactly what I would have described, had I known those words.  What we were doing on the USS Santa Fe, what we’re trying to do, was get people to do things because it was the right thing to do, and have it come from inside of them as opposed to “well, the captain made us do it” or “so and so I have to do.”  It’s the difference between saying something like, “Well, I have to pay my taxes” to “I choose to pay my taxes either because I don’t want to suffer the consequences of not paying the taxes” or (even better) “. . . because since I’m extracting resources from the government as a member of the society, I feel it’s only fair and responsible that I provide resources back to the government.” 

Now, Edward Deci, along with Richard Ryan, back in the mid 80s, initiated this concept called Self-Determination Theory (STD, self-determination), which centers on what motivates people. And in self- determination theory, there are three key pillars: mastery, autonomy and relatedness.  Mastery sounds like Competence, autonomy sounds like Control and relatedness (or sometimes they call it connectedness, which was at one point going to be the third C).  In Turn The Ship Around! the three Cs are Control, Competence, and Clarity.  I was toying with Connectedness. Ultimately, I went with Clarity because the book was more about how we need correct decisions to be made once we give people a sense of autonomy.  

It’s a great read. It’s got a lot of scientific research. They’re academics, so that’s what you get. But it’s the scientific background in the context of motivation, which says why getting people to have it come from within.  Being intrinsically motivated to achieve the task is far superior than getting people to do stuff “because they have to” or some extrinsic source.  

I’m David Marquet. That’s your Leadership Nudge. 

Sandy Wilmer

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