One day recently I watched as two women with a clipboard examined the staircase across from our house. Being naturally curious (nosy), I wandered over and asked them what they were doing. Counting stairs, they said. What a great idea, I thought. We have so many stairs in Juneau. Why shouldn't someone count them?
Do you work for the city, I asked. No, they shook their heads. That silenced me. They didn't offer an explanation right then. Very friendly, they were. Well, I thought I should help them so pointed out stairs they might have missed. The one near the Youth Hostel that brings you up to another street right next to an astonishing rock garden? Yes, they found that one. The one at the top of Starr Hill that leads even FURTHER up the mountain? Yes, they got that one. After all, they had canvassed downtown three times now in their efforts to count them all. Three times??? What about the ones on South Franklin that the bears used to startle tourists? (Perhaps not on purpose.) Oh yes, they had found all of those. In fact, they said, now that they had counted all of the stairs, they had decided to start counting steps between stairs.
Wow, I love this kind of research. You get to be outside, explore, notice everything, and best of all, you can carry a clipboard! They were doing it for fun. FUN. So often we think about an extrinsic reward as a motivation. We work to get paid. We fix up a house to sell it. We make a speech so that people will praise us. The truth is that there is no motivation stronger than what is inside of us. Check out www.danpink.com/drive for what Daniel Pink has to say about what really motivates us. It isn't what we think.
Back to my counting friends. They looked so happy, having counted all of the stairs. It was obvious that their project had given them a great deal of pleasure and having completed that, were on to counting the steps between the stairs. Oh, and before I forget - they counted over 1,200 stairs on staircases in downtown Juneau.