What Really Motivates Us


In the late 1980's, Dan Pink made a terrible mistake: he went to law school. He didn't fare well, graduating in the bottom 10% of his class. Later he overcame his failure at law and became chief speechwriter for Al Gore, then wrote three books about the workplace (including one best-seller). His fourth book is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Back in July 2009, Pink gave a TED Talk covering much of the ground that would later become Drive. It's an interesting talk because it presents scientific evidence that the way we are typically motivated in the workplace (with "extrinsic motivators" like bonuses) simply doesn't work. Or, to be more precise, it often doesn't work for knowledge workers -- it works all right in certain kinds of work (like hammering widgets in a factory), but many of you reading this blog don't work in a factory.

Discussed: The Candle Problem, research on rewards and motivation, contingent motivators (eg, get money if you work faster) sometimes work but often don't (or do harm), carrots and sticks, business vs. science, how certain kinds of left-brained work can be outsourced or automated (and extrinsic rewards work there) but right-brained work is harder to work with, science and "true facts," and a bunch more evidence.