August 15, 2014

TED Talk: The Puzzles of Motivation

Flickr CC via Miles Cave

Dan Pink’s Puzzles of Motivation TED Talk asserts that the ways of “sticks and carrots” motivation is outdated and that people’s reaction to incentives has changed. To achieve peak efficiency in tasks, Pink suggests three tactics: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy, in Pink’s definition, is “the urge to direct our own lives.” Mastery is “the desire to get better and better something that matters.” And purpose is “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

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Pink references the early 1900’s, speaking on the scientific management premise that worked during a time period when work more than likely consisted of simple, boring tasks. Back then, managers deduced that in order to get people to take on these tedious tasks they had to incentivize them properly and monitor them closely.

Put even more simply, Pink says that business owners knew that in order to get the most production out of your workers, you rewarded behavior you wanted and punished behavior you discouraged.

As Pink notes, this suggests “human beings aren’t much different from horses – that the way to get us moving in the right direction is by dangling a crunchier carrot or wielding a sharper stick.” But according to Pink, this is no longer the case, and today people are motivated differently.

So what does motivate modern-day people?

Allowing autonomy to workers lets them feel and be more in control of their production. Some studies have indicated that letting workers hold themselves accountable for finishing tasks (rather than being micromanaged) and allowing for ‘creative’ days results in workers that are happier overall.

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Mastery allows employees to become better at something that matters to them. People like to extend themselves and develop their skills, and they also often enjoy working in an environment where learning and development are encouraged.

Purpose means taking steps to fulfill one’s natural desire to contribute to a greater cause. A person who understands their company’s purpose and vision and knows their individual role contributes to this vision is more likely to be happy at work.