“For as long as any of us can remember, we’ve configured our organizations and constructed our lives around a bedrock assumption: The way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad.”
After writing about working for passion or the paycheck, there was one conclusion I came to: it doesn’t matter what you work for, as long as it gives you purpose.
This is an idea that forms the foundation of my 56 page ebook/manifesto, Killing Your Old Life and Living the Dream, which I believe is one of the only ways to have a life you enjoy long-term.
Purpose determines how much you enjoy your life.
Purpose determines how driven you are.
Purpose determines how big you dream.
Purpose determines if you perceive anything you do as worthwhile.
After all, if there’s no point [purpose], why do it?
Right now I want to expand upon that a little more regarding motivation.
The old business motto was give bigger incentives and people will work harder. And it was always assumed that that actually worked, since it seemed plausible.
No doubt it works sometimes. And no doubt it works short-term.
But long-term how well does it work?
That’s exactly what Daniel Pink asked in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Does getting more money make me hate my job any less?
Maybe what made me like the book so much was the fact that I can relate: historically when I had jobs that got to the “ehhh” point, where I no longer cared, money didn’t do much.
I would be offered a monetary incentive or a project to work on with a commission, but it didn’t motivate me. Because I didn’t intrinsically – deep down – care at all about what I was doing.
An extra $1,000 in the bank? It meant nothing. My daily routine didn’t change. The toys I had didn’t change. The emotions I felt on a daily basis: the happiness, the sadness, and the hopelessness were not changed an ounce by the adding of incentives.
“Try to encourage a kid to learn math by paying her for each work-book page she completes—and she’ll almost certainly become more diligent in the short term and lose interest in math in the long term. Take an industrial designer who loves his work and try to get him to do better by making his pay contingent on a hit product—and he’ll almost certainly work like a maniac in the short term, but become less interested in his job in the long term.”
Pink establishes pretty early on in his book that, in myriad studies, financial incentives tend to decrease long-term performance, especially if the task previously was done for pleasure or intrinsic enjoyment.
He cites artists that talked about how painting became a chore when they did it for clients. Done by and for themselves they would paint into the night and have no recollection of the time passing.
In fact he gives 7 reasons (that he calls the Seven Deadly Flaws) why financial incentives don’t work all or even most of the time:
1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.
2. They can diminish performance.
3. They can crush creativity.
4. They can crowd out good behavior.
5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.
6. They can become addictive.
7. They can foster short-term thinking.
Cultivate a Type I personality which is more concerned with intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic rewards.
“Type I behavior depends on three nutrients: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Type I behavior is self-directed. It is devoted to becoming better and better at something that matters. And it connects that quest for excellence to a larger purpose.” [Emphasis mine]
So let’s jump into his three “nutrients” of Type I behavior.
The feeling of having self-directed work where you are fully in control. Pink talks about a CEO named Jeff Gunther whose management philosophy revolves around ROWE – Results Only Work Environment.
Employees can come and go as they please, but they just have to get the work done. When and where don’t matter.
“Think for a moment about the great artists of the last hundred years and how they worked—people like Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock. Unlike for the rest of us, Motivation 2.0 was never their operating system. Nobody told them: You must paint this sort of picture. You must begin painting precisely at eight-thirty A.M. You must paint with the people we select to work with you. And you must paint this way. The very idea is ludicrous. But you know what? It’s ludicrous for you, too.” [Emphasis mine]
Historically, work has been “Get it done, this way.” But the reality is that that isn’t effective for most people.
Giving people autonomy motivates them to work however they want as long as the job gets done.
Sounds like a pretty solid game plan, is my boss reading this?
The desire to get better and better at something that matters.
I loved the chapter on mastery for one major reason: it ties in extremely well with the works of Dr. Csikszentmihalyi.
Flow and mastery are really just cousins – usually people find themselves in a state of flow when they are improving a skill they care about.
Mastery is the same. It is the feeling that you are improving a skill that matters. E.g. if I could care less about painting then getting better at it doesn’t provide any feelings of mastery.
I won’t talk much about Flow right now because I wrote a monster, 3 part series on How to Learn any Skill 2x as Fast in Half the Time utilizing the theories of Flow as well as Deliberate Practice.
But for now it’s important to remember that people who enjoy what they do tend to think along the following lines:
“Throughout my athletics career, the overall goal was always to be a better athlete than I was at that moment—whether next week, next month or next year. The improvement was the goal. The medal was simply the ultimate reward for achieving that goal.”
Mastery is about doing a skill because you want to get better, and that is the reward in itself. And it’s about getting better at something that you think is worthwhile.
“The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.”
The final factor in Pink’s motivation trifecta is purpose.
How does he define purpose? Working towards something beyond just the money, because (according to Pink) the goal of financial maximization doesn’t possess the power to fully awaken that inner drive factor.
People seem to be slowly catching on that if all your goals are extrinsic then even the achieving of those goals leaves you feeling unfulfilled.
Sure enough, one of the people Pink interviewed spoke at length about this:
“The typical notion is this: You value something. You attain it. Then you’re better off as a function of it. But what we find is that there are certain things that if you value and if you attain them, you’re worse off as a result of it, not better off.”
Let that settle in.
Even if you have goals and have direction, even if your temporary sense of purpose exists (Get an Audi, buy a mansion), and even if you achieve those goals, his research suggests you will be less happy than before.
So all purposes, all goals, and all dreams are not created equal in terms of the ROI regarding happiness. Hmm.
Businesses are also slowly catching on, and not necessarily because they have a choice.
They are realizing that giving someone the three pieces autonomy, mastery, and purpose are worth much much more to their company, both in terms of worker satisfaction as well as financial gain.
This shift Pink calls “a movement towards purpose maximization rather than profit maximization.”
And like I mentioned in the closing to my manifesto, the movement towards purpose will happen with or without people talking about it. Not only is it one of the fundamental drives that humans have [finding purpose and meaning], it is also a necessity for sanity.
Wonderful, so how does all this apply to my life?
Put simply, if you get to that point in life where you wake up and “don’t feel like dying, but don’t feel like living” you should consider Pink’s principles of drive.
Does your work and life contain Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose?
The solution lies in the problem: Autonomy + Mastery + Purpose = Drive (Motivation, sense of fulfillment, enjoyment).
If your life doesn’t = Motivated, then maybe one of the three pieces on the left is missing.
If your life doesn’t feel like you are in control, if you don’t feel like your work has a point and you are improving, or if you feel like you are just working for money.. consider re-reading Pink’s three nutrients above or pick up a copy of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
I also suggest reading up on Dr. Csikszentmihalyi and Flow; you can get a brief intro in my post If Your Work Sucks Learn About Flow.
These two principles arguably deal with the most important quality in life: feeling like your life is worthwhile, and that your time has actually mattered.
If you feel like you know anyone else waking up with that “life sucks and is pointless” feeling, pass this post on and make sure they read about Flow and Pink’s last reminder in Drive:
“And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice—doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”
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