Daniel Pink: The puzzle of motivation

Watch a fascinating speech by Daniel Pink, talking about motivation in 21st century:


You can find a short summary of Daniel Pink’s speech below:

Daniel Pink starts his speech with mentioning Karl Duncker’s candle problem. Participants of the experiment are presented with a following problem: they should attach a candle to the wall and light it up in a way that wax doesn’t fall from it. They have box of matches and box of thumbstacks at their disposal. The solution is to use box as a platform for a candle. Years later experiment was carried out – two groups of students were presented with the same problem, only this time there was timing of their efforts. First group was told that they will be timed to establish average for further comparison, the second group was offered financial rewards. Surprisingly, the second group spent 3.5 minutes longer on solving the task, despite financial incentive. That seems to be against whole logic of bonuses, commissions and other incentives used at companies to motivate their workers. As it turns out, such incentive can block creativity and narrow out focus. According to Daniel Pink such rewards can work perfectly well in simple tasks, the ones that don’t require any creativity. The 21st century problems are hardly ever simple. One of the thesis Pink is defending says that there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does, this example seems to confirm it.

The same conclusion about rewards as motivators was reached by American economists: D. Ariely, U. Gneezy, G. Lowenstein and N. Mazar. They carried out an experiment with participation of students, who were offered 3 kinds of rewards for solving a given task. The conclusions reached based on this experiment are as follows:

“As long as the task involved only mechanical skills, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a large reward led to poorer performance”.

In eight of the nine tasks we examined across the three experiments, higher incentives led to worse performance”.

The same conclusion was reached by Dr. Bernard Irlenbusch from London School of Economics:”We find that financial incentives…can results in a negative impact on overall performance”.

Daniel Pink points out business needs new approach, based on intrinsic motivation consisting of three elements: autonomy (Pink defines it as urge to direct our life), mastery (desire to get better and better at something that matters) and purpose (yearning to do what we do for something bigger than ourselves).

Speaking of autonomy, we have to realize as Pink points out that management is something invented, not intrinsic. It works if you are looking for compliance, but if you want engagement, then self-direction seems to be much better choice. This can be illustrated by various examples from different companies where focus is on autonomy, for example Google, where you can devote 20% of your time to your own initiatives (this is how roughly half of new products is created), or Australian company Atlassian that introduced so-called Fedex days: each employee once a month has 24h to work on his own project and then has to present it in front of whole company. The extreme form of autonomy is represented by a system called ROWE (Results Only Work Envrionment), where people don’t have any schedules, they don’t have to come to the office, they simply need to have the job done – how, when and where is totally up to them.

Final point used by Daniel Pink to illustrate his thesis is the example of encyclopedia – one designed by Microsoft, on which money was spent and of which hardly anyone has heard vs. Wikipedia, created just for fun, without any financial incentives, which turned out to be a huge success.

To sum up – in 21st century it is not the money, but intrinsic motivation that is a driving force behind success.