Photo: Gizmodo

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The science of motivation

Just came across a great post on the Owen Abroad blog. It's a presentation by the economist Dan Pink about the science of "motivation".

Two interesting things emerge for me. Firstly in the NGO sector, we should traditionally be solely driven by purpose rather than financial reward. Rather than salaries being high enough that people don't need to worry about the money and thus perform better, they can also be low enough (especially in the case of volunteers) that financial again is completely removed from the equation. But what happens in the new era of NGOs where CEOs are paid $150,000 and upwards? And even if there's no danger of a profit motive becoming detached from a purpose motive, does financial reward in the NGO sector introduce other dangers?

Secondly, what can this science tell us about policy-making that is driven by a carrot and stick reward system. "Conditionality" is a major driver of social welfare in both the global north (receipt of welfare being attached to a commitment by the beneficiary to seek work for example) and south (entitlement to conditional cash transfers dependent on children being in full-time education).

From this study, should policy-makers' use of motivation to get the best outcomes (for beneficiaries and taxpayers) also be challenged?


  1. So interesting this matter of motivation!!! It destroys the argument that for having good/able/creative directors in charities is necessary paying them massive salaries, in fact, it says just the opposite!!

    Beatriz Monje Barón

  2. Very interesting presentation of something that owners of their own, small businesses have known for years. We are purpose AND challenge driven, doing something that may not bring enough monetary reward for some time. But the satisfaction of doing something where you naturally go the extra mile for your customers, is tremendous.

    In that sense, perhaps those of you in the Charity sector are no different. When though will you try to attract the right good/able/creative directors using the terrific message of the video?

    Well done for finding this Matt!

  3. What he does't explain is why high reward does not lead to high performance, once the task involves a level of cognitive skill. My guess is the increased pressure due to the money at stake. This should also then certainly challenge the trend of conditionality in welfare policy where the pressure of financial gain is a question of survival.