Daniel Pink on Motivation


Daniel Pinks’ fascinating animated video explores new research on motivation, showing that standard “carrot and stick” motivational theory of financial reward is only effective with the most basic production-level tasks. Pinks’ theory on what motivates us – in work, in school and in our personal lives – is backed by four decades of solid scientific research on human motivation, and challenges the long-held business theory that the main drive powering human behaviour is the drive to respond to rewards and punishments in our environment.  As early as 1949, studies of primate behaviour when solving puzzles proposed intrinsic motivation – the joy of the task itself – as a driver beyond the basic functional biological drives.

“Carrot-and-stick” theory worked well for tasks that are routine, unchallenging and highly controlled.  But the tasks we routinely face in our daily lives today have become more complex.

“Pinks demonstrates that with the complex and more creative style of 21st century jobs, traditional rewards can actually lead to less of what is wanted and more of what is not wanted.  He provides ample evidence to support the notion that this traditional approach can result in:

  • Diminished intrinsic motivation (the third drive)
  • Lower performance
  • Less creativity
  • ‘Crowding out’ of good behaviour
  • Unethical behaviour
  • Addictions
  • and Short-term thinking”.

As soon as tasks require higher-level conceptual reasoning, enhanced financial reward has actually been shown to reduce productivity (for which there has been significant evidence in the banking and corporate worlds over the last decade).  The key factors are shown to be autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Pinks explores the processes that have led to the development of such global “game-changers” as Linux and Wikipedia, and explores the research outcomes that have clearly shown the importance of freedom of choice, room to explore, and a sense of personal commitment in driving forward creative problem-solving.  The ability to choose one’s working team is also significant.

He proposes a revised approach to motivation based on self-determination theory (SDT), which argues that human beings have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another, and that when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and lead richer lives.  Environments where mastery is possible require four essentials: autonomy, clear goals, immediate feedback and “Goldilocks” tasks (tasks which are neither overly simple nor overly difficult and which allow individuals to extend themselves and develop their skills further).

These research findings have a natural connection to the ground-level community-building work we do with families.  Coming together in self-chosen, relational groupings and operating in safe, non-directive environments to explore issues and work together to create local solutions is central to the functioning of our programming and a potentially powerful tool in the work of addressing complex social issues.