From Daniel H. Pink, the author of the bestselling “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” comes a paradigm-shattering look at what truly motivates us and how we can use that knowledge to work smarter and live better.
It is believed that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money — the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, Pink says in “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” his provocative and persuasive book. According to Pink, the secret to high performance and satisfaction — at work, at school and at home — is to give a challenge rather than rewards.
In the first pages of the book, he gives an interesting example of the Harlow Puzzle. Harry Harlow from the University of Wisconsin carried out an experiment with eight monkeys. He prepared a puzzle using a pin, hook and cover. When confronted with this puzzle, the monkeys tried to solve it. They learned how to remove the pin, slide the hook and open the cover. They were not rewarded with food, affection or even quiet applause when they succeeded. They solved the puzzles frequently and quickly; two-thirds of the time they cracked the code in less than 60 seconds.
I staged a similar experiment in one of my MBA classes, but this time with students rather than monkeys. I brought a puzzle to class and showed it to the students. All of the students tried to solve it.
As you can guess, the conclusion is that people are motivated when they meet a challenge. One of the most interesting phenomena of the 21st century is Wikipedia. There are more than 200 million contributors to it and all of them do this voluntarily. Even a small feeling of gaining a reputation by contributing to Wikipedia is not possible because the system does not let anyone put their names on articles they edit. So there’s no monetary award, and there is no recognition award. The only thing Wikipedia offers is the feeling of doing something good.
Sometimes monetary awards can do the reverse; they can de-motivate people. Two kids painting fences for fun love what they do. But if you start to pay them for their work, they may lose their motivation. Suppose a group of children play scrabble for fun; when you start to pay them an hourly wage to play, they will start to look at their watches and lose the pleasure they get from playing the game.
Pink claims there are three elements in motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Our default setting is to be autonomous and self-directed. We come to this world with autonomous minds, but we learn to become robots. We need autonomy over the task at hand (what we do), the time (when we do it), the team (who we do it with) and the technique (how we do it).
According to Pink, mastery begins with flow — optimal experiences when the challenges we face are exquisitely matched to our abilities. We can only master if only we engage. A quote from Albert Einstein articulates Pink’s idea: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
The third element, the purpose, is very important in motivation. Purpose maximization should take the place of profit maximization. If people believe in a purpose, they intrinsically work. But if they don’t believe in the purpose, they give up. The best example of purpose maximization is Wikipedia. When people contribute Wikipedia, they feel they have reached their intrinsic aim.