skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXIV, No. 15
July 20, 2012

previous story

next story

‘Bring the Purpose to the Surface’
Author Pink Challenges Outmoded Management Model

What does science tell us about motivation? What stimulates improved on-the-job performance? External rewards like cash bonuses? Or the intrinsic satisfaction of mastering a challenge?

These questions were at the heart of author Daniel Pink’s June 14 Deputy Director for Management Seminar. The size, diversity and enthusiasm of his audience in Masur Auditorium reaffirmed that the bestselling Pink has engaged many people in the workforce, not just managers. He’s offering a new way of looking at motivation.

A performance award may not be a motivator. “Three motivators for workers today are autonomy, mastery and purpose,” said Pink. He should know: he has spent years studying social science research on human motivation. His latest book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us addresses the changing science of work.

Pink summarized studies spanning the past four decades. Carrots and sticks—rewards and punishments—are effective only for repetitive, routine mechanical tasks, he said. This model, which Pink calls Motivation 2.0, worked well enough for workers in the industrial era, the 19th and early 20th centuries. But for jobs involving cognitive skills that require more complex judgment, discernment and creativity, the extrinsic motivators, including bonuses, often had zero effect. In fact, Motivation 2.0 even at times hindered productivity.

DDM guest speaker Daniel Pink is offering a new way of looking at motivation.

DDM guest speaker Daniel Pink is offering a new way of looking at motivation.

Photo: Ginny Roth

What’s needed now—and study after study shows this—is a different paradigm. The first step: a revision of management.

“We need to take the word ‘management’ off its pedestal,” Pink said. “It’s really a technology of the 1850s. Management, as originally conceived, was designed to get workers to comply, not to be engaged.”

Folks today doing right-brained work—the kind that takes independent, creative thinking—can actually be damaged by extrinsic rewards and punishments.

This doesn’t mean that people will work for free or won’t cash their paychecks. The payment and benefit structure has to be equitable: “It’s all about fairness.”

Assuming that fair ground rules are in place, rewards do not necessarily stimulate motivation. One thing’s for sure, says Pink: “Human beings are not engaged or motivated by being controlled.”

According to Pink, it is taking too long for managers to catch on to this.

“When I ask people to describe the best boss they ever had, I don’t get ‘controlling.’ Over and over again you hear that the best bosses set high standards and grant autonomy.”

Pink’s lectures are like the best teacher you ever had. He called on folks in the audience, asked—and remembered—names, bantered and the large crowd clearly enjoyed it.

If two-thirds of NIH workers are not in scientific roles but rather in administrative or support roles—a good portion of the work repetitive by nature—will Pink’s model really work here?

He has the studies to prove that it could. Once people understand what they need to do, and feel that they are being treated fairly, they should have autonomy in how they perform their duties. “Most managers focus on the ‘how-we-do-something,’” he said. “They give short shrift to the ‘why.’”

NIH’s mission—seeking knowledge about living systems and applying that to human health—was never part of a conventional business model, anyway. The “why” is something NIH employees at all levels understand. But reinforcing the why can be a performance enhancer.

“Bring the purpose to the surface,” Pink said. “And you have a pretty damn important ‘why’ at NIH.”

Pink ended the session by taking audience questions. NIH’ers can watch the whole lecture online at under Past Events.

back to top of page