Research requires massive intrinsic motivation

Research is fairly unique among high-effort activities in the amount of intrinsic motivation it requires because it just doesn’t lead to the other things that incentivize people.

Of course, there’s the question “what is research?” Here I think I mean “the quest for new knowledge.” That’s obviously a Nebulous concept, and the reason you want that new knowledge can be very different. There’s a sense though, that the knowledge is the priority over other factors.

Unlike startups, investing, or business in general, research is not aiming to make you rich. Note that this is not always true - some people do go into research with the intention of making a lot of money. While equally prioritizing knowledge and value creation+capture can work in some domains, It is hard to capture value from research.

Doing great research does not translate into status the way that art does. It’s ineffable, but even a highly regarded researcher feels lower status than even middling tier artists. A starving artist has a certain aesthetic appeal while a poor unknown researcher is just pathetic. Perhaps it’s because everybody feels like art is something accessible while the edge of knowledge is often out of sight and out of mind - ie. People don’t care. Of course, this is not the case if a researcher goes out of their way to elevate their own status, but again I would argue that the knowledge is no longer the priority and the research itself will suffer.

Unlike politics, research does not cash out into power. Researchers certainly can be powerful of course.

So research ends up as an activity that is a poor path to external things that people seek - wealth, status, and power - and yet requires just as much if not more dedication, discomfort, and creativity.


Web URL for this note

Comment on this note