The problem with incentives

Dan Pink gives a punchy TED talk about the adverse impact of incentives. He reports studies that show that offering incentives will increase performance for routine tasks. But for activities that require creativity or problem solving the bigger the reward the worse the performance.

Hmm, not quite the worldview prevailing in just about every company I’ve come across. As he puts it, there’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

(Alfie Kohn wrote a brillant book on this subject, Punished by Rewards. I heartily recommend it.)

If you want engagement, self-direction works better. People’s intrinsic drive is a far better motivator than extrinsic rewards.

Hat tip: A tweet from David Gurteen

3 thoughts on “The problem with incentives

  1. Niels Teunis

    Intrinsic Motivation and the Failure of Banks

    I was watching this presentation by Daniel Pink about the science of motivation.
    He makes the point that extrinsic motivation (think carrots and sticks) does not improve performance. In fact, it appears to do quite the opposite. There is ample scienti…

  2. Ian Glendinning

    What is so sad is that this stuff is still a revelation to people running organizations. It was already ancient history when I did my MBA back in the 80’s (eg Mary Parker-Follett)

    “Science” is part of the problem … seeing organizational management and behaviour as “scientific” – measurable objective things linked to other measurable objective things – and so things tend to become understood only in terms of things that area easy to measure, ie count, add, subtract – beans for example.

    Damn meme.


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