Motivating Yourself and Others

By Philip Brewer on 17 May 2010 (Updated 16 May 2011) 3 comments
Photo: Finsec

What motivates people to work hard and do a good job? Whether you're a worker, a manager, a business owner, or an investor, it's a question where getting the right answer matters a lot.

I've written about this before, in a post called Incentive Plans Always Go Awry, making the case that bonuses were a poor way to motivate people and suggesting alternatives. Most of the data for that post came from a book by Alfie Kohn called Punished by Rewards. The reaction I got was really instructive: lots of people didn't believe me.

It's easy to understand that. Everybody has been offered some sort of reward for good performance, and they know that it made them feel motivated. Besides, it's just common sense. If you read the comment thread in my Incentive Plans Always Go Awry post, you'll see that a lot of people were so sure that a bonus was effective motivation, they couldn't see any point in reading a book laying out the evidence that bonuses do a poor job of motivating people. To them it would be like reading a book explaining that gravity didn't work or that the sun didn't shine. And yet, the evidence is quite compelling: paying more for excellent performance is not only a poor way to motivate people, it is actually counterproductive. When a large bonus depends on doing outstanding work, work quality declines.

The problem is, that's such a counterintuitive idea, so at variance with people's sense of their own reaction to being offered an incentive, they tend to dismiss it without even glancing at the evidence.

So, I was delighted when I came upon this video by Dan Pink. It does a great job of laying out the evidence on what does and doesn't motivate people, and does it quickly and stylishly:

I ought to mention that I previously reviewed one Dan Pink's books, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, a compact little book filled with great career advice.

This video is equally densely packed with well-researched, evidence-backed analysis on what really motivates people — and what doesn't.

This post contains affiliate links.

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Lynn Truong's picture

Awesome animation! This pretty much sums up his latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Fascinating read about how we hang on to the completely flawed conventional wisdom of incentive and motivation.

Guest's picture

A person who lacks motivation is a person who is dying and usually does not know it, refuses to accept it, and has many excuses that he or she believes is the answer why their life is the way it is. Accepting complete responsibility for our lives is vital to moving ahead with our lives and the things we want to accomplish.

Your motivation to accomplish your goal comes from within. It is determined by your personal values and goals. Values will drive you and support your goals. Develop a list of 5 to 15 values, read them and memorize them, they must become apart of who you are.

With internal motivation arising from your values tied to your goals, it is much easier to stay motivated. Trying to find some internal value in everything you have to do can improve your overall performance and pleasure.

Philip Brewer's picture

Everybody's seen intrinsic motivation—the kid trying to beat a level on a video game or learn a skateboard move or play a guitar riff. That's exactly what managers are trying to buy when they offer a bonus for outstanding performance. And that's exactly what always fails, because you can't buy intrinsic motivation.