Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
WORKPLACE / JAN. 29, 2015
version 5, draft 5

The 3 Keys to Motivation

dan pink

As subject matter, motivation is a hardy perennial on most blogs about careers or similar, and it’s a topic that’s on the ‘most shared lists’ of websites. Either we can’t get enough of it or we don’t get it. Dan Pink, bestselling author and ‘career analyst’, has marshalled the available evidence from behavioural science to reveal to us what he describes as a necessary ‘new operating system’ that comprises three key elements: a motivation triumvirate which has its roots in intrinsic motivation.

Carrots & sticks are so last century… for 21st century work, we need to upgrade…” – Dan Pink

The motivation triumvirate

1. Autonomy

Autonomy is based around the urge we have to be in control of our lives. It starts very early on – consider how children like to explore and play on their own.  Research has established that most people don’t like being told what to do (most of us secretly harbour resentment when a colleague tells us how to do our jobs, or when our manager micromanages every aspect of our work), but welcome autonomy over their work. It’s a visceral need.   

So, autonomy is a key element of motivation, and Pink cites Google as an example of where autonomous employees thrive: at the tech giant, employees are allowed to spend a fifth of their time working on anything that interests them, and about half of the new products created in a typical year are the result of this twenty per cent time; he cites Gmail and Google News as two examples. You can watch Dan Pink discuss his findings, brimming with illuminating insights and other excellent examples in his inspiring TED Talk.

2. Mastery

Mastery, the desire to improve at something that matters, is the second building block of motivation. I practice the piano because I wish to get better at something that matters to me, at something I enjoy.  I don’t get paid to practise the piano. Video games keep players glued to their screen, because they incentivise them to get better, through various systems of levels and points. The takeaway: people want to improve, and they want to see that they are improving. They want to make progress.

3. Purpose

If you give your time to charity, why do you do it? If you go to a church or synagogue or temple, why bother? Why bother with friends and family? According to Dan Pink, the reason why we bother is what he refers to as ‘purpose’. He posits that purpose is:

The yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves” – Dan Pink

It’s also the feeling that you or your work is making a real difference; that it matters. Employers should move beyond facts and stats to show their employees how their work matters, how it makes a difference. For example, in one study, radiologists, who have little contact with patients, were shown photographs of their patients – with the result that they improved their performance.  Other studies have shown similar results: when employees can see how their work matters, it has a positive influence on their performance and motivation.

The motivation triumvirate – the three keys to motivation – matters, because the old system of leadership, the ‘carrot and stick’ ideology, is no longer fit for purpose in a western world where knowledge creation and creativity rule. As Pink advocates, it’s time for a change. It’s time for a new “operating system” relevant in the 21st century; one that recognises people’s needs for autonomy, mastery and purpose.

What do you think?


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