What motivates us?

Over the last few days I’ve come across several references to Dan Pink and his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  In this book he proposes that for the challenges we face today, there is more and more need for people to find intrinsic value in their work and the secret to high performance and satisfaction is not rewards, but “the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world”.

In this TED talk, Dan talks about the power of incentives, extrinsic and intrinsic motivators and the research findings that particularly for tasks involving cognitive function, rewards narrow our focus, restrict our possibility and lower performance.


In his article “Why Corporate Training is Broken and How to Fix It“, Jay Cross proposes that wise managers take control by giving control.  He talks about how corporate training has changed from the Industrial Age where workers were “cogs in the machine” through the Social and Information eras to the Network Era of today where workers are much more customer-focused, are rewarded for innovation and where collaboration is replacing command and control.   He also suggests that traditional training is not keeping pace with reality in that modern day workers are making more of their own decisions and want to learn but they don’t want to be trained.

Knowledge workers, according to Dan Pink, are motivated by three things:

Autonomy – our desire to be self-directed
Mastery – our urge to get better at stuff
Purpose – the feeling and intention that we can make a difference in the world

In order for knowledge workers to be self-directed, managers need to “inspire workers, set expectations, and get out of the way”.  In this podcast Dan Pink also suggests that managers can increase the intrinsic motivation of their people not by developing elaborate incentive schemes, but by helping people recognise their progress, shine a light on that progress, recognise it in front of other people, celebrate that progress and help them stay on a path toward making progress. 

As depicted in this RSA animate adapted from a Dan Pink talk, management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, self-direction is better.

One thought on “What motivates us?

  1. Jimmy Dulin – USA – Hello! My name is Jimmy Dulin. I am a musician and content creator. My girlfriend and I perform as the Walker Black duo. Additionally, I am a content creator and web designer for Mastering Creative Content, my online business headquarters. Check out the site to learn what I'm up to. Best, jimmy
    jimmydulinen says:

    Great post!

Leave a Reply