How TED Talks: Dan Pink On The Surprising Science of Motivation Made Me Better Understand What Motivates Me

by Karen Lac

When it comes to what motivates us at work, the conventional wisdom is money. It’s long been established that if you want to motivate someone to do a better job, you pay them well and provide financial incentives to do an even better job. In companies throughout the United States and much the world, employees eagerly anticipate the day when they hear from their boss whether they’ll be getting a bonus or pay raise.


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When it comes to what motivates us at work, the conventional wisdom is money. It’s long been established that if you want to motivate someone to do a better job, you pay them well and provide financial incentives to do an even better job. In companies throughout the United States and much the world, employees eagerly anticipate the day when they hear from their boss whether they’ll be getting a bonus or pay raise.

But is money all that motivates us? Thinking on my own situation, there have been plenty of times when I was well compensated for a job but still didn’t perform as well as I should have. There have also been times when I did everything that I could and put in a lot of time on jobs with lower pay. If you were to ask around your own family, friends, and colleagues, I suspect that you’ll find they’ve experienced this as well.

This goes against everything that we’ve been told about motivation. The more I get paid, the better my job performance is supposed to be. This belief that money is the biggest driver of performance is so accepted that to suggest otherwise would almost be un-American.

In his talk, career analyst Dan Pink dares to question this basic assumption. Using results from scientific behavioral experiments, he shows that while money may be a motivator for jobs that involve lower-level mechanical tasks, it doesn’t work for higher-level jobs that require cognitive skills. Instead, he shows that autonomy, mastery and purpose is what really motivates people.

In the end, what really motivates people is the ability to be the captain of their own ship. If there ever comes the time when I have to manage other people in jobs that require any level of independent thinking, I will know how to better motivate them thanks to Dan Pink’s Ted Talk. Just gaining a better understanding of what really motivates me was well worth listening to him.

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