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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Summary

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Motivation is examined in almost every airport management book, how to energise and inspire your team is vital to your success as a manager and a leader. Steven Pinker took an in-depth look at what actually motivates us and dispels a few myths about motivation that keep hanging around. In his studies, Pinker discovered that rewards improve performance in routine and algorithmic tasks, but as soon as any cognitive effort is required, rewards actually have negative effects on performance. He found that offering a reward narrows focus and hinders our ability to think laterally and creatively.

Rewards by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when theirs a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster…the rewards narrowed people’s focus and blinkered the wide view that might have allowed them to see new uses for old objects.

Intrinsic motivation is much more powerful. When we’re doing something out of curiosity or for fun, we are much more motivated and often outperform situations where we are incentivized or rewarded for our involvement and performance. In one study, it was found that non-commissioned (unpaid) artworks were judged to be more creative than commissioned (paid for) pieces.

Not always, but often when you are doing a piece for someone else it becomes more “work” than joy.

I’ve personally encountered this phenomenon, where I am happier and more productive when continuing to work from home on a particular problem after office hours than when I’m in the office. I’m in the office because I HAVE to be, but when I am working in the evening from home, I am CHOOSING to and it makes all the difference.

Daniel Pinker gives the following summary of his work:

When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system–which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators–doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way. This new approach has three essential elements: 1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

If you’re looking to develop a deeper understanding of motivation, then Steven Pinker’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explores the subject in detail and proposes how we should change the way we think when trying to motivate our employees, colleagues and even children.

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