Monthly Archives: August 2009

Dan Pink on the Surprising Science of Motivation

A friend just send me a link to another great speech from Ted. In short, Mr. Pink thinks that we haven’t learned much from science in regards to truly motivating people to greatness. From the speech:

“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And here’s what science knows:
1. Those 20th Century rewards and motivators we think are the natural part of business do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.
2. Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity
3. The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments but that unseen intrinsic drive –the drive to do things for their own sake, the drive to do things that really matter.”

Incentives for superior performance in cognitive and creative tasks cause poor performance.
I’ve seen this in my kids. When I challenge them to race to complete a difficult task they only become more frustrated and the rewards of victory actually stand in the way of real effort. Simplified to a common task, I can barely rein them in. Back to my life, if I have something simple to do, like dig a ditch for a sprinkler pipe, I yearn for a contest to make the menial task become challenging and rewarding. Incentives can work, but they don’t work in every instance.

Move away from carrots and sticks towards real motivators that science has shown to work.
• Autonomy – the urge to direct our own lives
• Mastery – desire to get better and better at something that matters
• Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

Examples of programs that increase Autonomy

• Fedex Days – You have 24 hours to deliver something.
• Google Labs. Enough said.
• ROWE (results-only work environment) – no schedules, mandatory meetings – just get the work done.