New Theories on Motivation


You’ll have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy, Hertzberg’s Dual-Factor theory and McClelland’s Achievement theory when it comes to motivation, but one new idea stands out among the rest because it epitomises the very real concept of intrinsic motivation within all of us.

Daniel Pink argues that there are three main elements of internal motivation, which he calls ‘Autonomy’, ‘Mastery’ and ‘Purpose’. These may seem pretty much common sense, but many managers forget how internal drive to motivation may be. Pink’s ideas may well identify why external motivators don’t work effectively all the time. Let’s take a look at the three ideas and see if we can marry up why they are so important:

Firstly, Autonomy

Our default-setting, say, Pink, is to be autonomous and self-directed. Most management today conspires to change this setting from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. To encourage intrinsic motivation, autonomy is the first requirement.

People need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it).

Then, there’s Mastery

While external motivation techniques require compliance, Pink says that the latest motivation requires engagement. Only engagement can produce mastery, becoming better at something that matters. Mastery isn’t just the ability to be able to do things well; it revolves around being able to carry out optimal experiences where the challenges we face help us to grow and stretch our capabilities.

Smart organisations supplement day-to-day tasks with stretching tasks, not too hard but not too easy. There are three elements to this drive to Mastery:

It is a ‘mind-set’ – it requires the capacity to see the abilities you possess as infinitely improvable.

It is a ‘stretch’ – it demands effort and deliberate practice.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             And it’s ‘progressive’ – it’s impossible to fully realise, which makes it frustrating, challenging and attractive, all at the same time.


Human-beings seek purpose – a cause greater and more attractive than just themselves – and businesses are starting to realise this. Purpose-maximisation is taking its place alongside profit- maximisation, expressing itself in three ways:

Goals that use profit to reach purpose,

words that emphasise more than self-interest,

and policies that allow people to match their work with their passion.

These three ideas may well prove why many businesses can’t get the most out of their people, because they are relying too heavily on the extrinsic forces to get people to be driven. But more force is always exerted when the person wants something they themselves have decided go for. So Pink’s ideas add value to the motivation debate and allow us to se what is really driving peeople’s performance.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

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