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What Motivates Us

Posted on September 19th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence


Motivation plays a huge part in determining how well someone will perform. Whether it’s an athlete, a musician or an innovator, their motivation will directly affect how well they do their job.

I’m sure you recognise that in your own work, or the work of those around you. Understanding exactly what it is that motivates people can be a little trickier though. Yet understanding what motivates us is the first step in doing something about it. By understanding motivation, we can make changes to improve our performance or the output of our teams.

All About The Money?

Although it’d be easy to assume that our motivation is proportional to our financial remuneration, studies have shown that this isn’t the case. In fact, higher salaries or performance related bonuses can actually lower performance.

That isn’t to say that salary and financial reward isn’t important. It is. But the level at which offering more money yields no further improvement in performance is lower than you might think.

There is a lot more to motivation than money, benefits or some of the most obvious external factors.

So What Is It?

Dan Pink, a bestselling author and former speechwriter for Al Gore, has come up with a trio of factors which studies suggest are more motivating than money. His work shows that for tasks requiring anything more than rudimentary cognitive abilities, increasing the financial reward actually lowers performance.

In a talk at TED a few years ago, Dan explains his findings as well as the three factors which actually increase motivation.


If you don’t have time to watch the video now (which I’d recommend you do at some point), the three things that Dan Pink says motivates us are:

  • Autonomy – the ability to set our own direction
  • Mastery – the practice of getting better and better at something
  • Purpose – serving something bigger than ourselves.

I’ll go into more detail on those three another time, but even at a high level I wonder if you can relate to them. Depending on the work that you do it might be difficult to see how one or more of these could fit, but I think it’s very possible to create opportunities for people to experience these three to some extent in all workplaces.

I’ll go into more detail another time. For now though, what do you think of those three factors? Do they match your experience of what motivates you or the people you work with?


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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