TEDxStCharles: Surprising Science of Motivation

Dan Pink’s TED talk on motivation and reward systems is one I’ve seen before, yet had a lot of things worth writing down. He talked a lot about the candle problem. Now the ‘candle problem’ itself isn’t important, the only significant feature is that it requires a small creative leap to solve it. If you give the candle problem to people in a low-stress situation, the do well. However, if you offer them rewards for solving it quickly, they actually do worse. Incentives retard performance, which is the exact opposite of the accepted wisdom.

Rewards do work in certain situations – generally simple tasks. Rewards narrow focus, which is great when you know what to do, and quite the handicap when you don’t. Situations where rewards work well are often mechanical tasks (‘pulling a lever’) where no creativity is required.

Dan offers an alternate system of motivation that does work in creative situations: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • Autonomy means means being self directed, or having some freedom in how you go about achieving the desired results.
  • Mastery means always working on new and interesting tasks, with the opportunity for learning.
  • Purpose refers to a mission larger than ourselves (recall Simon Sinek’s talk

Autonomy, in short, is good for creating engagement. Management is for situations where all you need is compliance. As an alternate the usual management culture, Dan offers ROWE – Results Oriented Work Environment, where people are given goals, not procedures.

Posted Thursday, March 10th, 2011 under Conference.

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