Friday, March 12, 2010

What Motivates Your Heart?

My article at InsideWork is up and also reposted below. Heads up since it has religious references.

What Motivates Your Heart?
Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

Recently I watched Dan Pink’s TEDTalk where he sought to answer the question of what motivates people.

Pink talked about Karl Duncker’s candle problem and variations of his experiment that explored the science of motivation. One experiment asked a group to solve this problem and explained that it would be timed to established norms. A second group was offered financial incentives. If you were in the top 20% of the fastest times, you would receive five dollars. If you were the fastest of everyone, you would receive twenty dollars.

The results were obvious, right? The second group, motivated by financial incentives, took on average 3.5 minutes longer. Yes, longer. Would this work in third world countries and developing economies? Yes. This study has been replicated over 40 years across numerous cultures.

What is basic knowledge in the social sciences should have been an epiphany in the corporate world, but this hasn’t occurred yet. Dan Pink went on to explain how extrinsic motivators, such as carrots and money, work for simple tasks, but not for complicated tasks.

He stated, “If you want engagement, self-direction works better.”

As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But once the task called for “even rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward “led to poorer performance.
— D. Adriely, U. Gneezy, G. Lowenstein, & N. Mazar, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Pink’s talk sent me back to my high school years where I recalled listening to the common sermon on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6: 19-14) and being turned off. I remember thinking as a young believer, “Why would the idea of storing up riches in heaven motivate me at all? If accumulating wealth didn’t interest me as a non-believer, why would it interest me as a believer?”

Reflecting back on all those sermons, I don’t remember a pastor ever analyzing this and bringing out God’s wisdom that was as insightful as Dan Pink’s talk. Maybe these pastors should have read what Pink discovered. Of course, part of my lack of recall could have been due to my own ignorance since I incorrectly assumed these pastors were discussing a similar monetary system would be established in heaven as on earth. Heavenly dollars? Who cares about storing up treasures in heaven?

Now since I’m a bit older and a little more informed, I realized after listening to Pink’s talk that God already knew this about us.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

The treasure that motivates us in what’s in our hearts. Hopefully as believers it’s Christ and God’s words for us. It’s not a promise of material wealth that will motivate people to change and live a life to glorify God, but the relationship that God offers—the daily sanctuary, peace, joy, wisdom and love that he freely gives.

John MacArthur has a great story on this:

During the time of the Decian persecution in Rome, the Roman authorities broke into a certain church thinking they could loot their treasures. The Roman prefect who was in charge stepped up to one saint named Laurentius and said, “Show me your treasures at once.” Laurentius pointed to a group of widows and orphans who happened to be eating a meal and said, “There are the treasures of the church. We have invested all we have in them.” That is treasure in heaven. Beloved, remember that what we keep we lose, and what we invest with God we gain eternally.

So if pastors and Christian leaders would pierce into God’s wisdom on the question of what motivates people, how would this reflect on their sermons? Their actions?

As business executives and managers, how does this affect your approach in working with your colleagues? I assume, to understand people better, you would first have to learn more about them and try to see where their hearts lie. This sounds like a commitment of time to me. Some people are open books, but most take time to reveal their hearts. If you can’t find any widows and orphans, investing in the people around you is a good start to building up your treasures in heaven.

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