Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Daniel Pink was also a keynote speaker at the recent Apple Leadership Summit. His focus is on business and he said people do 2 things at work: pitches and projects. In relation to this statement, he made two further comments. First, very few things are 100% right or wrong in the real world outside of standardized tests. Secondly, not everyone agrees on solutions.

In his most recent book entitled Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink challenges some assumptions of what motivates people. He says money is a motivator. He also notes that greater rewards improve performance on routine, automatic tasks. However, even when “rudimentary cognitive skills are required,” performance drops with greater external rewards. His argument rests on science that says we aren’t motivated as much as we would like to think by the carrot and stick approach.

Pay people enough so money isn’t an issue. Pink says the important aspects of motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy gives people choices on how they engage a project or problem. People want autonomy over their time, task, team and technique. Although Google is perhaps the most famous example of what they call 20% time where employees can work on anything they want during 1 day a week, it has been in existence well before Google. Pink argues that mastery comes with progress and people need feedback to progress. Annual performance reviews don’t cut it. Lastly, Pink talks about purpose and the need to understand why we are doing certain work. (By the way, Pink gives many more examples of the research in his presentations and book.)

Pink argues that we need to incorporate autonomy, mastery and purpose into our workplaces as well as our schools. We need to help students understand why they are learning certain topics and doing particular tasks. They need feedback so they can progress towards and attain mastery in certain skills. They need more time spent on the why instead of the how.

Did you catch it? If you are regular reader of my blog, you might of noticed that we just went full circle over the course of the weekend conference. We started with Simon Sinek talking about the why. We progressed over the weekend and Pink ended the weekend talking about motivation. And a vital component of motivation is the purpose...or the why.

We need to have a clear why. We need to communicate it over and over again. It needs to be repeated frequently and intertwined with the culture of our institutions. On an individual level, we need why in our lives to give us direction and purpose. The why helps us know what we want to master and how to make the most of our autonomy. The why helps us know who we are and what we are about. Do you know what motivates you? Do you know your why?

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