According to Daniel  Pink- the three elements of true motivation are —autonomy, mastery, and purpose

Need to rethink our approach, including in education?


Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink  In his provocative  new book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction-at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Scientific management was been based on the premise that all work consisted largely of simple, uninteresting tasks, and that the only viable method to get people to undertake these tasks was to incentivise them properly and monitor them carefully.

Put simply, in order to get as much productivity out of your workers as possible, you must reward the behaviour you seek, and punish the behaviour you discourage – otherwise known as the carrot-and-stick approach.

Scientists have long known that two main drives power human behaviour – the biological drive including hunger, thirst and sex and the reward-punishment drive already discussed. However in 1949, Harry F. Harlow professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, argued for a third drive – intrinsic motivation – the joy of the task itself.

Pink 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 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.

Pink proposes that businesses should adopt a revised approach to motivation which fits more closely with modern jobs and businesses, one based on self-determination theory (SDT).SDT proposes 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 live richer lives.

In ‘Drive’, he examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action. Along the way, he takes us to companies that are enlisting new approaches to motivation and introduces us to the scientists and entrepreneurs who are pointing a bold way forward.

Autonomy – provide employees with autonomy over some (or all) of the four main aspects of work:

When they do it (time) – Consider switching to a ROWE (results-only work environment) which focuses more on the output (result) rather than the time/schedule, allowing employees to have flexibility over when they complete tasks.

How they do it (technique) – Don’t dictate how employees should complete their tasks. Provide initial guidance and then allow them to tackle the project in the way they see fit rather than having to follow a strict procedure.

Whom they do it with (team) – Although this can be the hardest form of autonomy to embrace, allow employees some choice over who they work with. If it would be inappropriate to involve them in the recruitment/selection process, instead allow employees to work on open-source projects where they have the ability to assemble their own teams.

What they do (task) – Allow employees to have regular ‘creative’ days where they can work on any project/problem they wish – there is empirical evidence which shows that many new initiatives are often generated during this ‘creative free time’.

Mastery – allow employees to become better at something that matters to them:

Provide “Goldilocks tasks” – Pink uses the term “Goldilocks tasks” to describe those tasks which are neither overly difficult nor overly simple – these tasks allow employees to extend themselves and develop their skills further. The risk of providing tasks that fall short of an employee’s capabilities is boredom, and the risk of providing tasks that exceed their capabilities is anxiety.

Create an environment where mastery is possible – to foster an environment of learning and development, four essentials are required – autonomy, clear goals, immediate feedback and Goldilocks tasks.

Purpose – take steps to fulfil employees’ natural desire to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves:

Communicate the purpose – make sure employees know and understand the organisation’s purpose goals not just its profit goals. Employees, who understand the purpose and vision of their organisation and how their individual roles contribute to this purpose, are more likely to be satisfied in their work.

Place equal emphasis on purpose maximisation as you do on profit maximisation – research shows that the attainment of profit goals has no impact on a person’s well-being and actually contributes to their ill-being. Organisational and individual goals should focus on purpose as well as profit. Many successful companies are now using profit as the catalyst to pursuing purpose, rather than the objective.

Use purpose-oriented words – talk about the organisation as a united team by using words such as “us” and “we”, this will inspire employees to talk about the organisation in the same way and feel a part of the greater cause.

 This is relevant to all workplaces. Given the discussions over merit and performance related pay, in teaching, its worth looking in some detail at Pinks research. How do you motivate and incentivise teachers? Pinks research challenges some myths .

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us [Paperback] Daniel H. Pink 


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