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If you are looking for a good read to enjoy this summer, we recommend Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. This best-seller challenges the idea that getting external rewards like money and good grades motivates people to perform better. It will definitely make you think. While external rewards and punishments can work well for routine, algorithmic tasks, they can be damaging for heuristic tasks that require solving novel problems. The estimates suggest that only 30% of created jobs in the U.S. are algorithmic, while the rest 70% comes from heuristic jobs. Routine work can be outsourced or automated, while creative and non-routine work generally cannot.

Seven Deadly Flaws of Carrots-and-Sticks Approach

Of course, people need to be adequately compensated Book cover for Drive by Daniel Pinkto be motivated at all. Beyond a certain threshold of baseline compensation, carrots and sticks can achieve the opposite of their intended outcomes. Rewards can transform an interesting task into a routine. Thus, using only external rewards and punishments to motivate employees doesn’t work because:

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.
  2. They can diminish performance.
  3. Thy can crush creativity.
  4. They can crowd out good behavior.
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.
  6. They can become addictive.
  7. They can foster short-term thinking.

In this article, Careers and Employability Services at the University of Kent in the U.K. explore what generally makes us happy at work.

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose – The Three Pillars of Intrinsic Motivation

The book is very easy to read and full of interesting experiments and research that illustrate human behavior. It combines theory and empirical studies to show that the use of reward and punishment to motivate people is no longer valid for many modern jobs. To maximize motivation, happiness, and productivity at work, we need to upgrade the carrots-and-sticks approach to include intrinsic motivation that relies on three components – autonomy, mastery and purpose.

1. Autonomy

Autonomy is the first factor that affects happiness and productivity at work. It is the urge to direct your own life. According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from Rochester University, “Autonomous motivation involves behaving with a full sense of volition and choice, whereas controlled motivation involves behaving with the experience of pressure and demand towards specific outcomes that comes from force perceived to be external to self.” 

Research indicates that a sense of autonomy has a positive effect on performance and attitude of employees.Click To Tweet

In general, people need autonomy over 4 elements of their decision-making:

  • Task – What they do;
  • Time – When they do it;
  • Team – Who they do it with;
  • Technique – How they do it

Companies that offer autonomy generally outperform their competitors. In a Cornell University study of 320 small businesses, businesses that offered autonomy grew four times faster and had one-third of the turnover than control-oriented firms. An example of a company that practices the principle of autonomy is Google, where engineers are free to work on anything they like 20% of their time. In fact, many Google products we know and use came out of this 20 percent time, such as Gmail, Google Translate, and Google news.

2. Mastery

Mastery is the second key to intrinsic motivation. It is defined as the desire to get better and better at something that matters. According to Daniel Pink, there are three laws of mastery:

  1. Mastery is a mindset. It requires you to see your abilities not as finite, but as constantly improving. In this sense, learning goals are preferable to performance goals.
  2. Mastery is a pain: It requires consistent effort for a prolonged period of time.
  3. Mastery is an asymptote: We can only approach it, but never fully reach it. It is a source of both frustration and allure.

3. Purpose

The third ingredient of intrinsic motivation is purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. It is even more important than the first two factors, because it provides the context for the other two elements of intrinsic motivation.

Purpose builds on our innate yearning to contribute and be a part of a larger cause.Click To Tweet

The purpose motive can be expressed in an organization through:

  • Goals,
  • Words, and
  • Policies.

Using the words of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian philosopher an author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.”

Action Steps

  1. Watch an 18-minute TED Talk with the author of Drive here.
  2. Order the book and dive deeper into this fascinating read.