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The Puzzle of Motivation

Dan Pink in his TED talk highlights that higher incentives at work can actually lead to worse performance. Wait, what? Did you just read that right? Yes!

So, what's going on here?

What it boils down to is that businesses are motivating using behaviors and not intrinsic value. And it makes sense, right? For decades, businesses have spent so much time telling employees that they need to accomplish exact measures, need to have a certain number of meetings, cut costs by a certain amount, etc. But the problem we face in society, is that our problems are more complex than behavior motivators are designed for.

Behaviorist motivation can help in simple tasks - ship this many boxes today (but we don't specify how effectively they need to ship), don't be late to work more than 3 times in a month (but we don't have measures for what you do when you're here), etc. But they blind us to real solutions because we're focused on the wrong thing.

Setting up an environment at your business that focuses on intrinsic motivations helps free employee's mental energy towards those behaviorist problems and focus more on the real issues at hand: Help us be more profitable as a company, generate ideas that are going to help us grow, etc.

So, now what?

This all begs the question, if science and research and everything else points us away from behaviorist models in the workplace, then why do we use them?

It's because it's easy.

It's easier to measure someone's external actions instead of their internal thoughts and intents. In my opinion, the best way to prevent against extrinsic motivators is to hire the right people, build a trusting relationship and then let the business run. It requires trust and dependence, but it's better overall for everyone.

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