Christian Long

Dan Pink: Surprising Science of Motivation

In TED Talks on May 10, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Reflection by ANGELA W.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Dan Pink:  Surprising Science of Motivation

Dan Pink’s talk on motivation is surprising to me. He first brings up an experiment that separated a group of people into two groups. The first group was told that they would get five dollars if they completed the task they were given first. The second group was told that they would receive twenty dollars if they finished the task before the other group. Surprisingly the group that was told they would receive twenty dollars took longer to finish than the other group.

Usually we would think that the group offered more money would finish first. All of this makes no sense because what do we do when we want someone to do an excellent job? We reward them. We would think that once we offer a reward to someone, they would work harder and expand their mind. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. If we reward someone then it dulls their thought process and their ability to expand their work ethic.

Dan says that “there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does,” meaning that everything business does to advertise and sell does not work because science experiments tell us that motivations usually do not work as well as we would like them to.

Dan brings up an interesting point when he says that motivations and rewards narrow our focuses. If we are given a clear set of rules and the goal is simple and easy to reach, rewards actually have a positive effect. This is experimented using the candle problem. A candle, matches, and a box of tacks are given to two groups of people and they are told to nail the candle to the wall so the wax does not get on the table. The only difference between the two groups is that one is given the tacks out of the box. Each group is offered the same amount of money if the task is completed. The group that completed the task was the group that was given the tacks outside of the box. This is because the rules were simple and the goal was easy to reach.

Students at the London school of economics said that “we find that financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance” proves Dan’s statement that “there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”


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