The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us


I recently attended a discussion on Dan Pink’s wonderful book Drive hosted by Dundee Business School and the Deming Learning Network. It reminded me that I posted a few years ago on the great RSA animation that summarises this book

If you don’t have 10 minutes to spare to watch the RSA animation then Dan Pink’s 140 character Twitter summary will give you a flavour:

Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st Century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Pink’s basic argument is that we live in an age where the tricks that were (and continue to be) used to motivate people to undertake routine tasks have limited efficacy and scope. They also are counterproductive when it comes to complex, non-routine work requiring initiative, creativity, vision and ethics. In the world of business people are all too often ‘compensated’ for their time, awarded  bonuses for meeting short-term performance targets (usually at the expense of any long-term success) and micromanaged on the basis that their judgement can’t be trusted. A model where employees are extrinsically motivated  ‘resources’ rather than self-directed intrinsically motivated human beings.

Most schools and education systems are even worse than businesses as attainment targets narrow the focus of what counts as success.  It is as if we have learned nothing from the last 50 years of research into how to promote deep learning. As Dan Pink would argue we are still using the old carrots and sticks operating system of Motivation 2.0.

The ‘Motivation 3.0 approach that Pink argues for draws on research from across the social sciences. Over the years I have picked up some of the same influences, the positive psychology of Martin Seligman, for example, taught me that pessimism is the human being’s default setting and that you have to learn how to stay optimistic. Mihaly Csikszenthimhalyi concept of flow gave me insight into the conditions for optimal performance at work and play. Carol Dweck’s insights around mindset helped me to understand the psychological barriers to learning new things and the danger of having a fixed  perception of being either good or bad at anything

The body of evidence to support this new way of looking at the world is growing and for Pink takes the form an ‘operating system’ for a better way of living and working.  I am not all surprised by Pink’s argument. What really surprises me is that in 2013 his ideas, and the research that underpins them, have not already achieved the status of  common practice and good sense.

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