I like to bang on about how people respond to incentives, and I also like to bang on about how the ways we respond are predictably irrational. So it was with delight that I came across this presentation on motivation by Dan Pink.
He reports on an experiment funded by the US Federal Reserve Bank and conducted by economists at MIT which found that motivation is positively correlated with monetary rewards for mechanical tasks, but motivation is inversely correlated with monetary rewards for cognitive tasks.
That is, for mental tasks - even rudimentary ones - bigger monetary rewards lead to poorer performance.
Pink argues that the best way to achieve positive motivation from pay is to "pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table." Beyond that, what really motivates people is to provide a work environment that offers:
Pink notes that management leads to compliance, but autonomy leads to engagement. He puts it this way: "You probably want to do something interesting; let me just get out of your way."
Autonomy plus mastery plus purpose helps to explain why we have the Linux operating system, the Apache web server, database servers like MySQL and Postgres, free encyclopedias like Wikipedia, and other high-quality, market dominating open-source projects.
On the other hand, companies with a profit motive that has become "unhitched from the purpose motive" often end up producing substandard products, mediocre service and unethical or even criminal behaviours.
If we start treating people like people, and not assuming that they're simply horses - you know, slower, smaller, better-smelling horses - if we get past this ideology of carrots and sticks and look at the science, I think we can actually build organizations and work lives that make us better off, but I also think they have the promise to make our world just a little bit better.
To this I would add just one more observation: there's no actual employment occupation so 'menial' that it can't be imbued with autonomy, mastery and purpose.
There's no job so brainless that it can't be done well or badly, or so mechanical that it can't benefit from the creativity of the people performing it to carry it out more effectively or productively.
That is, this analysis isn't just for Richard Florida's "creative class" - it's for every employer, every job.
It frustrates me to no end when I come across the blinkered managerial imperative that assumes the only thing workers can contribute to their jobs is to show up and do what they're told. It's a waste of human potential, a needless source of misery and a missed opportunity to find better ways of doing things that honour creative human contributions rather than treating workers as replaceable widgets.
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