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.


6 thoughts on “The Surprising Science of Motivation

  1. Interesting. I like ROWE’s 2nd and 3rd point. I would want to create a workplace where there are no *official* off days. Everyone just takes off time to do whatever they want to do – anytime, like a generous off time. But, I would like everyone to be so passionate about their jobs so that the idea doesn’t get exploited. Total freedom.

    And btw, 20% law at Google says – “If the employee has served their primary responsibility towards their team’s project, they are encouraged to use one day of the week in a secondary project of their own choice”. Not the first part of the sentence, since majority of engineers get trapped right there.

    • Thanks, Gurshi. You are right — freedom without passion could be exploited. Thank you for throwing more light on the Google rule. One day — considering the 5-day workweek — would make for the 20%. I guess if they have a good recruitment process, then most of their employees should qualify, driven by individual passion.

  2. “rosy-posy motivational speaker” classic.

    They are some points I never really thought of. I’m not so much an HR fan, but then again, motivation is not just an HR function. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. I quite agree with what is being said here by Pink. These 3 are the building blocks, which need to be used to build/custom make the kind of structure that would suit each business’ requirements.

    Also a static structure is as good as history, rhythm and dynamism are the vital signs of life.

    • “… a static structure is as good as history.” Well said, Dhaarini. I think it goes beyond business — anything that we focus our lives around, should provide us with a sense of autonomy, mastery (knowledge) and purpose.

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