The Surprising Science of Motivation

Here is a video from the excellent TED series where Dan Pink talks about the science of motivation and illustrates a mismatch between what science has proved and how management theory is applied in the business environment.

Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation.

During the lecture he argues that in highly creative, knowledge intensive arenas, such as law, traditional carrot and stick motivators will work in only a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances and indeed tend to inhibit creativity.    He stresses that “too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science. And if we really want to get out of this economic mess, and if we really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things. To entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach.”

Instead he cites examples where high performance is actually driven by giving skilled workers:

  • Autonomy – a sense of control over what they do,
  • Mastery – a desire and ability to improve and develop and,
  • A Sense of purpose – an understanding of where their efforts fit into an overall vision and strategy.

This speech, delivered in 2009,  presents an interesting challenge to our traditional thinking of how we engage, motivate and retain high performing individuals and is especially relevant to the legal industry where talent and the innovative application of that talent will continue to be a key differentiator