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The surprising truth about what motivates us
May 31, 2010, 3:14 pm
Filed under: Experience, Get Activist

Recently Wired had Clay Shirky and Daniel Pink sit down for a conversation about motivation and media, social networking, sitcoms, and why the hell people spend their free time editing Wikipedia.

I’m a huge Shirky fan, but of particular interest to me was the Wired contributing editor and the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I love Pink’s thinking about the power of the three drives that can be utilised in the workplace : Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, and I’m also pretty sweet on the RSA Animate series that has brought it to life in the presentation above

Here’s a bit of the interview transcript:

Pink: We have a biological drive. We eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, have sex to satisfy our carnal urges. We also have a second drive—we respond to rewards and punishments in our environment. But what we’ve forgotten—and what the science shows—is that we also have a third drive. We do things because they’re interesting, because they’re engaging, because they’re the right things to do, because they contribute to the world. The problem is that, especially in our organizations, we stop at that second drive. We think the only reason people do productive things is to snag a carrot or avoid a stick. But that’s just not true. Our third drive—our intrinsic motivation—can be even more powerful.

Pink: Both of us cite research from University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci showing that if you give people a contingent reward—as in “if you do this, then you’ll get that”—for something they find interesting, they can become less interested in the task. When Deci took people who enjoyed solving complicated puzzles for fun and began paying them if they did the puzzles, they no longer wanted to play with those puzzles during their free time. And the science is overwhelming that for creative, conceptual tasks, those if-then rewards rarely work and often do harm.

Shirky: You talk about the laws of behavioral physics working differently in practice from what we believe in theory.

Pink: Yes, often these outside motivators can give us less of what we want and more of what we don’t want. Think about that study of Israeli day care centers, which we both write about. When day care centers fined parents for being late to pick up their kids, the result was that more parents ended up coming late. People no longer felt a social obligation to behave well.

I think that the fundamental premise that organisations that link purpose and profit motives are more innovative and have greater long-term financial sustainability is a powerful one. Everybody needs to win when we’re designing what business goals looks like. Customers, employees and shareholders. And not a token ribbon for participation either. Everyone needs to feel like a winner, feel like they’ve backed one and are part of a winning team.

Time for some Seth Godin and his Simple five step plan for just about everyone and everything:

1. Go, make something happen.

2. Do work you’re proud of.

3. Treat people with respect.

4. Make big promises and keep them.

5. Ship it out the door.

When in doubt, see #1


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This is a great summary – off to share it with some folks who need to hear it!

Comment by Gavin Heaton

[…] things that really drive our motivation. And this video animation of Dan’s speech – courtesy of Katie Chatfield – explains what that […]

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[…] recently viewed this 10 minute video via Katie Chatfield’s blog. Based on the book by Daniel H. Pink, the video is an animated summary of what are our true […]

Pingback by The truth about motivation | What I am Happy For




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