Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

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Having explored the scientific research of the last 40 years, Dan Pink has deeply examined what really motivates people. What he’s found is that there is a mismatch between what social scientists know and what business (and education) does. This is a fascinating TED talk that relates some surprising (yet deeply intuitive) facts about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators.

This is a must for teachers, leaders and builders of in all career fields. For quick insight into the video, I’ve posted a snippet from the transcript below.

Now I want to tell you about an experiment using the candle problem, done by a scientist named Sam Glucksberg, who is now at Princeton University in the U.S. This shows the power of incentives. Here’s what he did. He gathered his participants. And he said, “I’m going to time you. How quickly you can solve this problem?” To one group he said, I’m going to time you to establish norms, averages for how long it typically takes someone to solve this sort of problem.

To the second group he offered rewards. He said, “If you’re in the top 25 percent of the fastest times you get five dollars. If you’re the fastest of everyone we’re testing here today you get 20 dollars.” Now this is several years ago. Adjusted for inflation. It’s a decent sum of money for a few minutes of work. It’s a nice motivator.

Question: How much faster did this group solve the problem? Answer: It took them, on average, three and a half minutes longer. Three and a half minutes longer. Now this makes no sense right? I mean, I’m an American. I believe in free markets. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Right? (Laughter) If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. That’s how business works. But that’s not happening here. You’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity. And it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.

And what’s interesting about this experiment is that it’s not an aberration. This has been replicated over and over and over again, for nearly 40 years. These contingent motivators, if you do this, then you get that, work in some circumstances. But for a lot of tasks, they actually either don’t work or, often, they do harm. This is one of the most robust findings in social science. And also one of the most ignored.

For administrators and educators in schools like univ of phoenix and such who caters nontraditional students, inspiring and motivating their students is a very important aspect of their job.

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