Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.
“Science of human motivation,particularly the dynamics of extrinsic motivators and intrinsic motivators. How we motivate people, how we apply our human resources, it’s built entirely around these extrinsic motivators, around carrots and sticks. That’s actually fine for many kinds of 20th century tasks. But for 21st century tasks, that mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach doesn’t work, often doesn’t work, and often does harm.”
“if-then rewards work really well for those sorts of tasks, where there is a simple set of rules and a clear destination to go to. Rewards, by their nature, narrow our focus, concentrate the mind. That’s why they work in so many cases. And so, for tasks like this, a narrow focus, where you just see the goal right there, zoom straight ahead to it, they work really well. But for the real candle problem, you don’t want to be looking like this. The solution is not over here. The solution is on the periphery. You want to be looking around. That reward actually narrows our focus and restricts our possibility. Let me tell you why this is so important. That routine, rule-based, left brain work, certain kinds of accounting, certain kinds of financial analysis, certain kinds of computer programming, has become fairly easy to outsource, fairly easy to automate. Software can do it faster. Low-cost providers around the world can do it cheaper. So what really matters are the more right-brained creative, conceptual kinds of abilities. Think about your own work. Are the problems that you face, or even the problems we’ve been talking about here, are those kinds of problems — do they have a clear set of rules, and a single solution? No. The rules are mystifying. The solution, if it exists at all, is surprising and not obvious. Everybody in this room is dealing with their own version of the candle problem. And for candle problems of any kind, in any field, those if-then rewards, the things around which we’ve built so many of our businesses, don’t work. This is a true fact.”
“And what worries me, as we stand here in the rubble of the economic collapse, is that too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in floklore than in science. And if we really want to get out of this economic mess, and if we really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more the wrong things. To entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a new approach. And the good news about all of this is that the scientists who’ve been studying motivation have given us this new approach. It’s an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, because they are part of something important. And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses resolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.”