What Motivates Us

Put the stick in the corner and feed that carrot to your donkey! We don’t need to be managed to be efficient, just give us a little breathing room and we thrive.

Daniel H. Pink

When I first published the news about our Sabbatical, we’ve received a lot of feedback. Some of it as comments in this blog, even more on Facebook and other social media. Most of them very personal, but some people also commented on the professional reasons that drove us into the decision. Specifically, the motivation in the work place.

Daniel H. PinkI was surprised to read that my ideas expressed in that post have resemblance to theories build by Daniel H. Pink in his Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Intrigued, in such comparison I decided to explore that subject.

According to Daniel H. Pink, everything we know about motivation is wrong. In the traditional model, adopted by the corporate world, people are driven by fear of loss and hope of gain, or the anecdotal stick and carrot. However, according to latest studies, this is not only inaccurate, it’s flat out wrong. In a nutshell, bonus plans and performance evaluations are counter productive in any kind of work environments. Especially for professionals, they reduce our ability to produce creative solutions to problems. It’s not the carrot and the stick anymore. Apparently, after we meet our basic needs, what motivates us today is our ability to grow and develop our potential.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t realize or are not ready to admit those new scientific studies and continue to feed us carrots and beat us with a stick. There are a few exceptions though, pioneers who experiment with different approaches:

  • Employees creativity thrives in Google’s legendary work environment. One day a week, engineers at the internet giant are free to work on projects of their choosing.
  • Few years ago, Best Buy introduced a concept called ROWE – Results Only Work Environment, in which employees are free to work when- and where- ever they want, as long as they reach agreed objectives.

It’s true that I’ve read about the above examples already before, which may explain why my ideas appeared similar to those expressed by Daniel H. Pink in his latest book. I read about ROWE couple of years ago and wondered at that time if a similar concept would work at my company. In theory, assuming mature organization and strong management, we have an almost perfect environment to implement ROWE. Except for the manufacturing area, results only work environment could be adapted in all other parts of the business. After all, we are a projects based engineering company and we pay professionals to be creative and not to push papers around, don’t we…? Those that (used) to work with me know the answer to that question… I think it also applies to many other businesses in the modern world. We have twenty first century technology and nineteenth century mentality, when it comes to what motivates people in the work place…

Pink, in his book doesn’t only talk about motivation in the work place, even though this seems to be his area of focus. He also gives pointers on how to adapt this new studies in your day-to-day life and in appendices you’ll find tips on applying it to fitness, children, etc…

If you’re interested, you can get your own copy of the Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us at Amazon for under USD $10.

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