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8 September 2020

Daniel Pink, Drive-The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

Jairek Robbins

Nearly everything we know about motivation is incorrect. This is a startling statement if you are a team leader, business owner or in any position of leadership where you are required to keep people motivated.

If you want to inspire people to reach the peak of their performance, extrinsic rewards (such as performance bonuses) may not only be ineffective, but actually counterproductive. How can this be, when we have always “known” that more rewards translate into better performance?

Check Out This Animated Video Below That Breaks Donw

Can’t Watch? Here are the Key Takeaways Below!

Not All Tasks Are the Same

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, points out research which categorizes tasks into two groups.

The first category of tasks are the “algorithmic” tasks that require someone to follow a set formula for doing something from start to finish. Such tasks require basic mental effort, hence their name “algorithmic.” They are often repeated over and over again. For such tasks, extrinsic rewards, such as money, are a good motivator and will drive performance.

The second type of task requires individuals to use their right (creative) side of the brain. These tasks require a higher level of mental power, and those tasks are often different and yield different results each time. For such tasks, extrinsic rewards don’t produce any motivation; in fact, the rewards can trigger the opposite of what is expected. Daniel Pink proposes a shift to intrinsic motivation for this category of tasks.

Research Proves This

To illustrate the limitations of extrinsic rewards as motivators for right-side brain tasks, Daniel Pink cites research that was done to try and get more people to donate blood. When a monetary reward was offered, the number of blood donors reduced by almost half!

This was unbelievable to classical economists who strongly believed that extrinsic rewards drive motivation.

Similar studies were conducted in different parts of the world using different categories of participants, and the results were the same. Extrinsic rewards like money were only effective in motivating people who are doing the most basic of tasks.

Some Goals Are Potentially Dangerous

Daniel Pink also shows us that when you set a goal for yourself, you are likely to be highly motivated to work towards attaining it. In contrast, the goals that come from external sources, such as quarterly sales targets, can produce lots of unwanted results.

For example, they can result in less cooperation among team members, and unethical behavior can result as people get so narrowly focused on finding shortcuts to attain those goals. People also lose their personal initiative and wait to be directed, and this is every team leader’s nightmare. 

How Can People Be Better Motivated?

For tasks that require higher-order thinking, Pink highlights three crucial elements of intrinsic motivation that almost never fail to produce peak performance.

First is autonomy. We have already mentioned that you tend to perform best if you set your own goals. It is therefore not surprising that when people are given the freedom to do things as they wish, they do their best.

Daniel Pink cites an example of a tech company which gave its employees the liberty to work on anything they wanted to work on, with anyone they wanted to collaborate with on that task, for 24 hours. The only condition given was that each person had to report about what they were working on to the company. The result? That 24-hour period of autonomy produced some of the biggest breakthroughs and solutions for the company than all the other hours of the workweek when employees where working in a structured way.

When you think about this carefully, you realize that giving a person autonomy is an indication that you trust them to get the task done, and you are getting out of their way so they can do what they do best. Who wouldn’t thrive under such conditions?

Secondly, people can be motivated by the desire to attain mastery. Ever heard the concept “being in the zone” or “in the flow”? Those are terms that describe what happens when there is such a perfect balance between the challenge presented by a task and an individual’s abilities. Time stands still, and one can lose sense of self and even where they are.

The quest for, and the feeling of, being in the zone explains why people may spend their time outside their formal jobs perfecting their craft without any expectation of being paid. Getting to master their fields is motivation enough.

Thirdly, people can be motivated by the desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Remember the example of seeing a drop in blood donors once people were offered payment for giving blood? That is an example of people being motivated by the desire to make a difference, the desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves.it is a big motivator as it fills tasks with a sense of purpose.

Don’t Extrinsic Rewards Have a Place?

According to Daniel Pink, extrinsic rewards can still be offered to people engaged in higher-order tasks. However, those rewards should come at the end of the task, and they shouldn’t be expected. Extreme caution should be taken when using extrinsic rewards so that undesired effects aren’t triggered.

This isn’t to say that money doesn’t matter. It does, and in a big way. The trick is to pay your people enough money so they don’t have any money concerns, and that will free them to focus on the task at hand. Once that point is reached, the three motivating factors discussed earlier take center stage.

You may be wondering, how much money is enough to make people stop having money worries? That point is reached when employees feel that they earn fair pay. Industry rates for various positions are a good guide to let you know how you are doing in terms of paying your people well so that their mind can focus on what they do.

When earnings reach that point, start providing positive feedback, praise, useful information and other nonmonetary rewards if you are to trigger lasting motivation among people engaged in right-brain tasks.

Today, there is a crisis characterized by people saying that they don’t find any meaning in their work. As an employer or leader at any level, you owe it to yourself to find ways to make your team feel a sense of autonomy, the chance to attain mastery, and an opportunity to be part of something that is bigger than themselves. In short, a purpose-driven life. Once you create an environment in which those three things exist, watch each of your team members become a peak performer!

To Your Success,

Jairek Robbins



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