Dan Pink on Motivation

Career analyst Dan Pink argues that traditional rewards aren’t as effective as we think and that businesses need to change their thinking for high performance, creativity and engagement.

Dan Pink says the carrot and stick approaches are great for task management, they work well where there is a simple set of rules, straightforward and expected outcomes, using left brain thinking or rudimentary cognitive skill. But these motivators don’t work as effectively for right brain thinking – conceptual outcomes or the search for solutions that are creative.

He says a new approach is needed for high performance using intrinsic motivators that nurture a desire to do something because it matters, because we like it, because it’s interesting and because it is part of something important.

He suggests a new operating system based on autonomy, mastery and purpose:

  • Autonomy – the urge to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – the desire to get better at something important
  • Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than us.

He argues that traditional management is great for compliance but if we seek real engagement, then enabling self-direction is much more effective. Dan presents examples for cutting edge software companies where employees get time to work on anything they want, anything at all. All they were required to do in return is to present their idea to their colleagues. These techniques have birthed an array of exciting concepts.

In conclusion, Dan says, people should be paid adequately and fairly to get the money issue off the table then initiatives and programmes should be about self-directing.

Key Points

  1. 20th Century rewards do work, but only in a narrow band of circumstances
  2. If/then rewards can destroy creativity
  3. The secret to high performance is intrinsic motivators
  4. Update notions of motivation and incentives to change the results.

Summarised from Dan Pink’s TED speech in Oxford dated July 2009.