I posted this article to the technical blogs I write – my own Global Nerdy and Microsoft’s Canadian Developer Connection – but the topic of what motivates people would be just as interesting to people outside the field of software. There’s no tech jargon here; if you do work that involves even a modicum of cognitive skill, this is for you!
Here’s a great movie which takes the audio from a presentation by Dan Pink based on the research for his latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and augments it with video of a whiteboard cartoonist illustrating what Pink is talking about. I have no idea how long it took to film the illustration sequences, but I love the end result – I think it makes for better internet viewing of a presentation than simply watching a video of the presenter on the podium, even when accompanied by slides.
The movie covers the part of Pink’s presentation that talks about an experiment to determine whether higher pay led to better performance. The results:
- For turnkey, mechanical, just-follow-the-instructions tasks, larger rewards do lead to better performance.
- For tasks that call for cognitive skills, conceptual and creative thinking — even at a rudimentary level — larger rewards did the opposite: they led to poorer performance.
The sort of work we do calls for cognitive crunching certainly falls into the latter category – as Andy “Pragmatic Programmer” Hunt says, making software is one of the hardest thing humans do.
Money is a motivator, but when it comes to people who do the sort of work we do, it requires more than just money to motivation. Pink’s recommendation is to pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money, but thinking about their work instead. Once you’ve done that, there are three factors that lead to better satisfaction and performance:
- Autonomy: The desire to be self-directed, to direct our own lives
- Mastery: The urge to get better at stuff
- Purpose: The reason we do something
In the end, what Pink suggests is that if we treat people not like “smaller, better-smelling horses” with carrot-and-stick incentives but like people and set up the appropriate motivations, we’ll make our work and the world a little bit better.
If you enjoyed this portion of Pink’s presentation and want to see the whole 40-ish minutes, I present it below. Enjoy!