Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TED Talk Tuesday- The Surprising Science of Motivation

In this Tuesday's TED talk, Daniel Pink, author of best selling book, Drive, challenges the traditional idea that we are motivated by external rewards.
He clarifies that extrinsic rewards actually work quite well for simple tasks where there is a clear set of rules and a single set of solutions. However, science has proven that for more complex, conceptual problem-solving, larger rewards actually lead to poorer performance.

So what does motivate us for non-mechanical tasks?  
Daniel simply and elegantly boils it down to three things:

  1. Autonomy- the urge to direct our own lives.
  2. Mastery- the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose- the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
As a salesperson who has chased bonuses, commissions and reward trips for over a decade, this was a pretty tough idea for me to believe.  But as I thought about it, I realized it was never the money or rewards that really drove me (although they were definitely a nice perk), it was always something else.  Something internal.

You see, my parents kicked me out of my house when I was 16 years old.  I needed to find a way to pay for college, and I quickly realized that making $6/hour as a cashier at Target would never cut it.  So when I found a sales opportunity selling Cutco knives, of all things, I jumped all over it.  Now the whole Cutco experience is probably an entire future blog post in and of itself, but what it gave me was the chance to start controlling my destiny. Unlimited sales income meant the harder and smarter I worked, the more I could make.  

But it wasn't about the money.  It was what the money meant to me at that time.  It meant I could pay for college myself.  It meant I could move out of friends' houses and into my own place. It meant I could prove to my parents and more importantly to myself, that I could make it.

That internal motivation still drives me today.

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