While studying accounting in college, I was continually intrigued by my psychology classes and the study of human behavior. In his book, Daniel Pink details the “mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”


Most businesses continue to use external rewards for motivation, yet research continues to prove that true motivation is intrinsic. As humans, we seek autonomy, mastery and purpose in all areas of our lives, even in business.

Key Takeaways

Autonomy is the ability to self-determine how, when, and where our work gets done. At first, it may seem like this is only possible for entrepreneurs. Yet some organizations have put this to the test and found it not only improves employee morale, but also the bottom line. People still have specific goals to reach and are held accountable for them, but the specifics on how, when, and where the work gets done is entirely up to them. Some have even gone so far as to allow employees to choose the teams in which they work. The author illustrates our need for autonomy by describing a child – as babies, toddlers, and young children, we are curious about our world and self-directed in discovering it. It is only over time that we lose it. Given the opportunity, increased autonomy results in increased fulfillment.

Mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters. In order to best do that, we need to find our flow. Until recently, I had only heard that term used by yogis. The author suggests that “in flow, the relationship between what a person has to do and what he could do is perfect.” I know I am doing something that I am passionate about when I lose myself in my work or lose track of time. The pure enjoyment of doing that work is the reward itself.

Purpose as an intrinsic motivator really stood out to me. A study found an incline in volunteerism directly correlated to a decline in workplace engagement. For example, compensated time declined at the same rate that uncompensated time increased. This indicates that money as a motivator has limits. People seek to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be part of something that matters and are willing to give their time and money to pursue it.

Digging Deeper

“The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.” As employers, pay your people a fair and adequate wage so that instead of focusing on the rate of pay, employees focus on their work. “If-then rewards require people to forfeit some of their autonomy.” That is why you might hear someone say they love photography, but decline the chance to turn it into a career because getting paid would take away the joy they find in it. The extrinsic reward of getting paid eliminates the intrinsic motivation to do it for pure enjoyment. One of the examples Pink uses is paying your son to take out the trash. Once you do that, it is almost guaranteed that you will never again convince him to do it for free. The reward of getting paid solidifies the job as undesirable in his mind and not only will he want payment every time, at some point he’ll also desire a pay increase because the focus has shifted from the work to the payment.

According to the author, “Perhaps the most underused word in the modern workplace is why.” Simon Sinek also expands on this with his books: Start with Why and Find Your Why. Why we do something gives us insight into our purpose and can lead to fulfillment by following our passions. When employers exchange terms like efficiency, advantage, and differentiation with those like honor, truth, and love, their employees will find a sense of belonging. It can be so easy to get caught up in how work is done that we forget to define why we do it. I suggest each of us dig in, define our why and connect these principles with the work we do – this will bring much more satisfaction.

“We know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice – doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”