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The Business Environment: Motivation, Rewards & Incentives

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Dan Pink, worldwide renown author, demystifies motivational mechanisms and the way rewards are regarded as a key leverage in driving performance, in a classic TED Talk.

The fact that motivation is a delicate aspect of business development is, perhaps, not groundbreaking news. However, given today’s very dynamic working environment, incentives, rewards and motivational systems need to be revisited and adjusted with knowledge coming in from both research and practice.

Albeit a handy solution to approaching motivation, the ever traditional reward & punishment approach is currently outdated, in the famous author’s opinion.

Dan Pink provides a savvy expose, in which he discusses motivation paradoxes, highlighting the counterproductive effect of bonuses and how incentivizing plans do not only hinder progress, but effectively blunt creativity and performance.

The presentation brings valuable insight for why you can’t lead people by the books, check books that is, given the discrepancy between scientific knowledge and business movements. Introducing findings from the social sciences field of research, Dan Pink argues that:

– Although extrinsic motivation can be employed, successfully, for a limited amount of tasks, it is over-used, to no concrete purpose;

– In what he calls a “mechanistic” approach, people are uselessly corrected or rewarded, which tends to be disruptive more often than not;

– The utility of this conditional, “if – then”, is limited to those work situations where both the tasks and the set of rules are simple, straightforward and with predictable outcomes;

– Rewards are, by their nature, built for narrowing focus. This, in turn, narrows possibilities, or one’s willingness to search for a broader image;

– Rewards, incentives and other such maneuvers only work in a restricted set of cases.

Dan Pink also points out that the 21st century work configuration is highly different from what it used to be, given that routine, rule-based tasks are currently being outsourced and left to automated solutions, clearing the slate for more sophisticated, highly creative work.

In an inspiring speech, he attempts to sensitize the audience to this point, asking people to consider their current work tasks, and how their profile has changed dramatically from what the business segment believes motivation looks like. Attempting to raise awareness towards this inconsistency, Dan Pink points out that current, 21st century problems, are no longer defined by a single set of rules, or outcomes for that matter.

The author concludes with underlining the fact that we’ve steered clear from the 20th century’s motivational needs and that the business medium needs to update its “notions of motivation into the 21st century”, along with what this means for developing businesses today, worldwide.


Dan Pink, career analyst, worldwide renowned author, and one of the most influential business thinkers in the world, former speech writer for presidential runner Al Gore. Video source: D. Pink (2009) The puzzle of motivation, TED Talks
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