The Puzzle of Motivation

Redfish Team Thought Leadership, Stimulating Ideas, and Innovation Discussions


This week we listened to Dan Pink’s TED Talk: The puzzle of motivation.

“It has inspired us to consider how Redfish might incorporate “FedEx” days to see how we can better help candidates and companies,” reported Leah O’Flynn. “We agree that we are not carrot and stick people, but rather are motivated by working together as team. We would get more gratification in help our team versus a cash incentive.”


Pink’s TED Talk is about 18 minutes long and worth your time if you have any interest in performance motivation issues. Pink presents a case for the mismatch between what science tells us about motivation and how business practices pay for performance programs. He presents evidence showing that pay for performance works only on very mechanical tasks, but that creative or cognitive tasks are required that larger reward lead to poorer performance.


Pink calls for a new approach, an intrinsic approach to motivation with a new operating system built around: autonomy, mastery, purpose. He cites the example of an Australian software company, Atlassian, who a few times a year, gives their engineers 24 hours to work on anything they want as long as it is not part of anything they are doing at work. At the end of the day, they gather to present their projects. They call these “FedEx days” because they have to deliver something overnight. And everyone has been very excited about the results. Another example, at Google, you can work on anything you want 20% of the time, and about half of the new products at Google are produced during that time.


The take-away is that the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose are motivating creative performance much better than the extrinsic motivators of carrots & sticks. Pink recaps with: 1. 20th century rewards do work but only work in a narrow band of circumstances; 2. If/Then rewards destroy creativity; and 3. the secret to high performance is not rewards and punishments, but unseen intrinsic drive to do things for their own sake because they matter.



idea light bulb

What do you think?


Let us know your thoughts on these ideas, or suggest a topic for our next discussion!



About this post:

The recruiting team gathers weekly to consider and discuss various ideas that merit attention in business strategy, organizational behavior, and psychology. From thought leaders to innovative disruptors, these discussion stimulate new ideas that can be applied professionally and personally. We’d like to share what we are thinking about with you.

You can read related posts under the category stimulating ideas.


Discussion: Dan Pink’s  The Puzzle of Motivation


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