Daniel H. Pink on How to Increase Intrinsic Motivation

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Drive" by Daniel H. Pink. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is intrinsic motivation? What are the three elements of intrinsically motivated behavior?

As the name suggests, intrinsic motivation is an internal drive to perform a behavior or engage in an activity. According to Daniel H. Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, there are three components of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

In the book, he gives a number of tips on how to increase intrinsic motivation. We’ve grouped them into three categories: 1) personal motivation, 2) motivation in the workplace, and 3) motivation with your children.

Increasing Your Personal Intrinsic Motivation

Here are exercises to bring more intrinsic motivation into your life and make necessary changes.

What is your sentence?

A congresswoman once told President JFK, “a great man is a sentence. Lincoln’s was: ‘he preserved the union and freed the slaves.’ FDR’s was: ‘he lifted us out of the Great Depression and helped us win a world war.’ What is your sentence?”

What is your sentence? What is the one thing you want to accomplish or be known for? You may need to reorganize your life to focus on this.

How did you get better today?

In pursuit of your sentence, you’ll need a lot of small tasks and setbacks. To keep yourself motivated, ask yourself at the end of the day: “are you better today than you were yesterday?”

Write down your small incremental steps, like learning 10 foreign words, or running two laps. Remind yourself you won’t be a master by day 3, and that mastery is a journey of a thousand steps.

Consider taking a sabbatical.

Many people work hard for 40 years, spending the final 25 years in retirement. But why not take retirement 5 years later than you otherwise would, and sprinkle 5 years of sabbatical throughout your career?

Taking a year off might give you valuable time for personal exploration and unstick you from the rat race.

Conduct deliberate practice.

The best way to improve is to apply effort toward improving performance. Don’t just blindly do the same thing over and over again. Conduct deliberate practice:

  1. Set a stretch goal. Remember that the goal of practice is to improve performance, not to go through the motions. You need to strain yourself to reach higher each time.
  2. Understand your weaknesses, and direct your effort there.
  3. Apply full concentration and effort. It’s going to be mentally and physically exhausting – but that’s why most people don’t do it, and that’s how you’ll get better.
  4. Receive immediate and informative feedback. This will point out how to improve.
  5. Repeat, with discipline. Mastery is the sum of thousands of small events, done day in and day out.

Improving Intrinsic Motivation In Your Organization

Here are some tips on how to increase intrinsic motivation in your organization.

Give 20% Time for Self-Chosen Projects

If 20% time is too extreme of a transition, just start with 10% time, limited to a receptive small group of people.

Turn an Off-Site into a Fedex Day

Many off-sites fee like awkward forced-fun days. Instead, set aside the day for when employees can choose what to work on, with the only rule being that they must deliver. They can deliver a new idea, a prototype, a better process, or more.

Conduct Anonymous Surveys of Autonomy and Purpose

Ask questions like “how much autonomy do you have over your tasks at work” and “what is our organization’s purpose?” If you’re a manager, it’ll likely be surprising how inaccurately you perceive your workers to feel.

Give Yourself Performance Reviews

It’d be crazy to imagine an athlete like Lebron James getting feedback or coaching just once a year, in a 1-hour session. Try to seek more management feedback for yourself.

In addition, give yourself performance reviews. Set performance and learning goals at the beginning of the month, and then evaluate your performance at the end of the month.

Encourage Peer-to-Peer Rewards

Add a policy such that at any point, an employee can award any other employee a $50 bonus after doing good work. This has two benefits: 1) it avoids the flaws of contingent rewards and 2) it carries a different meaning coming from colleagues instead of from managers.

Involve Employees in Goal Setting

Bring employees into the goal-setting process. This will give them ownership over goals and make them feel more driven toward accomplishing them. 

Design for the Majority of People who are Good, Not the Minority who are Bad

Many companies set policies to minimize downside – to prevent slackers from taking too much vacation or getting distracted when working at home. The problem is, people often naturally react to restrictions by pushing the limits of rules, looking for ways to game the system.

But if you’re hiring well, the majority of people should be behaving well, and the rest you should probably terminate. So design policies to assume trust by default. People will reciprocate the respect and trust they receive.

Introduce Changes Intelligently

If you’re an employee, you might feel powerless to change the entire scope of your company. Here are tips on how to achieve change:

  • Start small. Think about how to make something in your domain better, tomorrow. Don’t worry about changing the whole company to be like Google overnight.
  • Be subversive. Make a change without asking for permission. If it works out, tell others. If it doesn’t, then learn from the mistake silently.
  • Emphasize results. To get management on your side, speak in their interest – tell them your changes will get results – better profits, higher sales.

Pay Fairly, Internally and Externally

The author believes monetary compensation is merely a baseline reward and isn’t inherently motivating. It just needs to be high enough so that people stop obsessing about how little they’re getting paid.

Internally, make sure that people are paid differently in a way that is publicly justifiable – based on seniority or complexity of work.

Externally, calibrate your compensation with local and industry averages. Pay more than average if you can – this will reduce retention and could be worth the extra cost in productivity (since employees won’t constantly be thinking about whether they can get paid elsewhere).

Question Whether Sales Commissions are Necessary

Consider paying employees who earn commissions with salaries instead. Here are benefits:

  • You can stop spending time on constructing complicated, non-gameable commission schemes.
  • Teamwork improves by reducing competition for commissions.
  • Customers feel they’re receiving more earnest service by non-commissioned salespeople

Improving Your Children’s Intrinsic Motivation

Build Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose Into Assignments

  • Offer students autonomy over how and when to work.
  • Promote mastery by giving a novel, engaging task, rather than just a regurgitation of something already covered.
  • Help convey the purpose of the assignment and of the course itself. If they’re learning history, ask them to apply it to the news. If learning Spanish, take them to a local organization where they can practice it.

Give Kids Variants of Adult Employee Practices

  • Allow a FedEx day where they can choose a project of their choosing.
  • Have them set performance and learning goals for themselves. Run performance reviews just like with employees.
  • Give feedback often, and make it specific.
  • Praise effort and strategy, not intelligence. This will inspire the growth mindset and encourage pushing through future difficulties.

Don’t Combine Allowances With Chores

Tying chores to if-then rewards sends a message that chores are undesirable, and turns helping the family to a practical transactional. By requiring chores without pay, you build principles like teamwork and diligence.

Daniel H. Pink on How to Increase Intrinsic Motivation

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  • Why you may be feeling unmotivated and unsatisfied at work and in life
  • Why financial rewards aren't enough to keep employees motivated anymore
  • The three components of intrinsic motivation

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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