What is intrinsic motivation as said by Daniel H. Pink

There are three kinds of motivations:

  1. Primal: Food, safety, sex. If something gives one of these things we are motivated to work
  2. External: Rewards, recognition, applause, a salary hike etc
  3. Intrinsic: The satisfaction of completing a task is motivation in itself.

Now the important thing is that intrinsic motivation is as strong as the other two. In fact external motivation has diminishing effect while intrinsic motivation keeps us engaged. For example when money is used as an external reward for some activity, people lose intrinsic interest for the activity. This is called Sawyer Effect i.e. when rewards turn play into work and players loose the intrinsic motivation. For example 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-he’ll almost certainly work like a maniac in the short term, but become less interested in his job in the long term.

In fact there are several problems that come through external motivation:

  • It extinguishes intrinsic motivation and hence reduces creativity and diminishes performance. Opposite is also true, they increase performance for algorithmic tasks which does not require much creative thinking.
  • It can induce unethical behaviour
  • It can become addictive i.e. it has diminishing effect for the same amount of external motivation again and again


But is intrinsic motivation strong enough to get things done?

The whole open-source movement is a testimony to the intrinsic motivation. When 684 people from open source community were surveyed to find out what motivates them to participate in such projects, they found “that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver”

Another important thing. Intrinsic motivation is not just another way of motivating yourself and your staff. It is the most effective way in our current situation when people are moving away from algorithmic jobs (due to automation) towards more heuristic (creative) ones.

Implication of this shift is that:

  • Jobs are no more considered dry, something people have to be motivated by external factors to do. Employers have to now appeal to the intrinsic motivation factors such as giving more meaningful roles. In fact rewards are detrimental to creative work because by their very nature they narrow our focus.
  • Since people are motivated intrinsically, they don’t have to be managed closely.

Both these factors make intrinsic motivation very important.

To summarise, if you can, appeal to intrinsic motivations of people. It is very powerful and great to boost creativity and commitment. Otherwise at least make sure that the rewards you are giving are increasing rather than diminishing the intrinsic motivation of people.

Of course the baseline rewards- wages, salaries, benefits etc- have to be adequate and fair in all this.

Intrinsically motivated people are not just good at their jobs their physical, mental and social well being is also much higher.


Ok, how do you induce intrinsic motivation in yourself and your employees

  • Maximise Autonomy. Shed unnecessary rules. Allow discovery. Give autonomy in tasks, time, technique and team.
  • Create conditions for Mastery. The desire to get better and better at something that matters. Happens through engagement. Autotelic Experience, Flow. Conditions to reach flow:
    • goals are clear
    • feedback is immediate
    • relationship between what a person had to do and what a person could do is perfect (Goldilocks tasks)

Things to remember about mastery: it is a mindset, it is painful and it is an asymptote

  • Attach Purpose. As important in life as in business. Profit maximisation to Purpose maximisation. (how to get this?). “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself”.
    • One way to orient your life toward greater purpose is to think about your sentence, what one sentence would summarise you.



  • When you do something you are intrinsically motivated to do, you are much more creative, productive, committed etc. Nothing new in this.
  • The old method of external motivations does more harm than good in today’s economy that relies on creative jobs
  • In order to increase intrinsic motivation in a task you can aim to maximise autonomy, create space for mastery and attach a purpose
What is intrinsic motivation as said by Daniel H. Pink

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