Motivation is a huge topic. It underlies why we get out of bed each day, whether or not we’re going to be productive members of society, and even how we gauge the quality of our lives. “I’m just not feeling motivated” can rob a person of the precious limited time we get in a single lifespan.

There are a lot of different ways to come at the topic of motivation, but I want to direct your attention to one of my favorite discoveries. I was first introduced to the concept in Daniel Pink’s book “Drive.”

The traditional way of seeing motivation, especially from the perspective of management and business, is to set up a series of carrots and sticks – incentives that generally are associated with monetary gain versus disciplinary procedures that eventually lead to firing.

Recent studies on motivation indicate that those traditional methods are GREAT… as long as the tasks are rudimentary and require little cognitive engagement. The more complicated the task, the more creativity required, the more the results using carrots/sticks are abysmal.

Instead, there are three prime movers that outclass all other motivational techniques: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy is the desire to be self-directed. Pink describes this as telling your employees “You probably want to do something interesting, so let me get out of your way.”

Mastery is the urge to get better at stuff. This is why people dedicate their discretionary time to skill building, like playing the guitar on the weekend despite having no promise of becoming a professional musician.

Purpose is wanting to feel as if your efforts are part of something bigger, something that transcends the immediate productive elements of your task. This is why company mission statements employ language like “making the world a better place” and “disrupting the industry.”

For a great overview on the science behind motivation check out RSA Animate on Daniel Pink’s talk at the RSA event here:

And pick up Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” to benefit the most from this massive reframe!

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