The science of motivation

2012-01-04T00:00:00Z The science of motivationKatherine Zimmer Napa Valley Register
January 04, 2012 12:00 am  • 

What motivates you?

I think this is a great topic to start out the New Year on the right foot — or at least a more enlightened foot. Lucky for me, I am highly motivated by this topic right now because of an upcoming deadline I have to prepare a presentation for a speaking commitment I made several months ago. (Is the desire to stop procrastinating on your resolutions list, or are you still chalking that one up to capacity overload?)

My speaking gig is for the annual conference of the Western Association of Chamber Executives (WACE) in early February, and the topic is motivation from the perspective of author Daniel H. Pink’s latest book, “Drive — The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” 

Since I’m already a fan of Mr. Pink’s previous work, “A Whole New Mind,” I immediately considered this task to be something interesting that I’d jump right into. But apparently I fell right into Chapter 2: “Seven Reasons Carrots and Sticks (Often) Don’t Work.”

This book provides tangible information for business management by explaining the natural evolution of motivation (physical science) through the behavioral reactions to mundane tasks, demanding requests and creative fulfillment. OK, now I’ve totally lost you — boring, right?


Pink’s writing style is a reading experience that is both inspiring and insightful. It compels you to read on with alert engagement, just because you want to. As it turns out, this is the optimal scenario in his theory of “intrinsic motivation” — the performance of the task is its own reward. 

The three elements Pink describes are:

• Autonomy: The pure joy of working a task with self-direction, creativity, learning and collaborating on your own terms. This is a terrifying concept to the micromanager. Just imagine — happy employees working “in the zone” to grow your business, versus just phoning it in on a “cash-for-task” basis. This is also the foundational concept that motivates the entrepreneurial spirit — and where would we be without that?

• Mastery: When you are working in a state that provides you with the most satisfaction, often called “in the flow” or “in the zone,” then you are authentically working toward the mastery of the task. You care about the process as much as the outcome. As an artist, I often experience the phenomenon of losing track of time. All of our jobs should frequently give us access to the “zone.”

• Purpose: Autonomy and mastery. Pink says it best: “It’s in our nature to seek purpose. But that nature is now being revealed and expressed on a scale that is demographically unprecedented and, until recently, scarcely imaginable. The consequences could rejuvenate our businesses and remake our world.”

In summary, more engagement with less compliance doesn’t mean that everyone on your staff is an expert who can be left completely alone without accountability. To be an effective people-person manager, you still need to understand personality types and how they respond to motivational influences. A little astrology doesn’t hurt either!

But, it makes sense to me that if you combine the great parts of traditional management styles with Pink’s “Drive” concepts, our planet would be a much happier and more productive place. Read the book.

Katherine Zimmer is vice president of marketing and communications at the Napa Chamber of Commerce. Reach her at 254-1147 or

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