Thursday, April 15, 2010

Daniel Pink: How to motivate people

Daniel Pink presents an interesting TED talk here on how to motivate workers. Essentially, he is in favor of self-motivation, and having employers encourage employees to motivate themselves.

Pink's arguments are solid, and research-based. More, I appreciate the fact that he knows that his findings and ideas don’t apply to all cases and are not the only way to achieve a degree of success; I’m tired of hyperbole (tired of hearing it, not of using it, of course…).

An excerpt from CNN’s summary of the talk:

In laboratory experiments and field studies, a band of psychologists, sociologists and economists have found that many carrot-and-stick motivators -- the elements around which we build most of our businesses and many of our schools -- can be effective, but that they work in only a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.

For enduring motivation, the science shows, a different approach is more effective. This approach draws not on our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but on what we might think of as our third drive: Our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

In particular, high performance -- especially for the complex, conceptual tasks we're increasingly doing on the job -- depends far more on intrinsic motivators than on extrinsic ones.

The discussion is particularly interesting for parenting, in the on-going challenge of finding ways to help our children take responsibility for themselves. As the CNN summary explains:

In the peculiar world of human motivation, sometimes adding two positives can give you a negative. Take the case of chores and allowances. Both are good. Chores show kids that families are built on mutual obligations and that all members need to help each other. Allowances teach kids to be responsible for, and manage, their own money.

But combining the two is a big mistake. By linking money to the completion of chores, parents turn an allowance into what I call an "if- then" reward (as in "If you do this, then you get that.") The science is very clear that "if-then" rewards, while effective in some circumstances, can trigger an avalanche of unintended consequences.

In this case, the carrot of payment sends kids a clear (and clearly wrongheaded) message: In the absence of cash, no self-respecting child would willingly set the table, empty the garbage or make her own bed.

It converts a moral and familiar obligation into just another commercial transaction -- and teaches that the only reason to do a less-than-desirable task for your family is for payment. So keep allowance and chores separate, and you just might get that trash can emptied. Even better, your kids will begin to learn the difference between principles and payoffs.

I have more to say, but time is at an unusually high premium today, so I’ll leave it at that for now.


  1. you mean like schar vonesh as a motivator for avodat hashem?

    Joel Rich

  2. Great post, and I love TED.

    Look at it like this. If someone's rewarding someone else, then the person who is rewarded is beneath the one who bequeaths. The job is to get people to rise to the occasion when there is no reward. So speaking to, finding what is within a person that is powerful, willing, and able, is better than saying, If you take out the garbage, I'll give you a buck. "Smell the garbage? We'll both be happy if you take it outside, we'll feel we live in a home," is more to the point. Or something like that.

  3. Joel-
    See my post here on why Pirkei Avot spends so much time on reward and punishment...

    Thanks! Hope all is well with you.