Pink’s New Approach to Motivation

“There is a difference between what science knows and what business does.”

In the video above, Dan Pink, American author of five business books including Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, briefly discusses about a business practice that has been successfully applied by companies for decades. It’s called extrinsic motivation or, simply, the practice of awarding rewards and/or incentives for better employee performance and more profit for the company.

The idea of rewards for a job well-done may sound enticing enough for any worker. However, recent studies from reputable institutions confirmed that such practice actually yield the opposite result: poor worker performance and unreached goals.

Sounds like some conspiracy theory? Pink talks about how 21st-century jobs require more thinking for workers as ways to reach goals are not laid out in front of them. Extrinsic motivation then could only be applied to jobs that are “mechanical” or repetitive in nature.

Pink also talks about intrinsic motivation—the more basic drive such as autonomy (the urge to direct own lives), mastery (the desire to get better at something that matters) and purpose (the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves). This, he tells is what will help today’s workforce grow thus helping companies survive and flourish.

Personally, I think Pink’s assertion makes perfect sense. But while I agree, I don’t see it as something that would help me as an employee—not at the moment at least.

In my humble opinion, here in the Philippines there aren’t a lot of jobs that pertains to what Pink talks about. I find that most jobs here—even the outsourced type—lean more on the “mechanical” kind. I’ve been there when I used to work as a transcriber. Incentives clearly worked and employees are willing to spend more time to go beyond quotas. On the other hand, having worked as an instructor, I find that incentives mean nothing because it’s never about numbers when it comes to teaching.

And then, I ask myself why there aren’t a lot of companies in the country that require creative thinking on workers. Based on Pink’s example—mainly Google—I assume that such companies are global, they are the movers and shakers of the industry. So, while Pink’s approach will definitely be helpful, this country needs to focus first on coming up with companies that are exactly what Pink has discussed.