The Surprising Science of Motivation

Dan Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind, talks at TED about motivation. Pink claims that extrinsic motivators like performance-based rewards (especially monetary) do not always improve performance. In fact, he argues, they have a largely diminishing effect on productivity, creative satisfaction and quality of work. Now Pink is not a philosopher or your rosy-posy motivational speaker. He cites various examples, like this one from the London School of Economics, to support his point.

I found it interesting to hear what Pink identified as the 3 main motivating factors at work:

1. Autonomy — The freedom to pursue independent ideas and thoughts, flexibility to manage your own schedule. (He cited Google and ROWE as examples. Of course we all know the story of each Google employee getting 20% of their work-time to do anything they want; about 50% of the company’s new products germinate here. ROWE goes one step even further.)

2. Mastery — The desire and opportunity to become better and better at something that matters.

3. Purpose — “The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

Pink was speaking in the context of businesses and management, but I guess the same holds true in lots of other cases. These 3 factors also explain why we have writers, designers, scientists, artists and freelancers, not all of who are making loads of money, but still giving their best at what they do.

Link to the talk at TED.