Spreading some love

Here is a  really nice animated talk by Dan Pink on what really motivates us.

For those who can’t play the video, he says that monetary incentives work for simple, straightforward tasks, but they don’t work at all well for tasks that require conceptual and creative thinking.  According to him, what motivates people is autonomy, mastery and purpose.

One conclusion I draw from this is that there are probably a lot more people than you might think who would be willing to spend a lot of time and effort helping to make the world a better place by reducing poverty, if we did a better job of enabling them to give their time and abilities.  According to Pink, what will motivate them is the challenge, the opportunity to develop mastery, and the knowledge that they are making a contribution to a purpose they believe in.  Those of us who work in development need to do some more thinking about how we can provide more platforms on which those contributions can be made, rather than just asking people to pay money in taxes or in donations.

In a more satirical vein, if you work in the aid business I think you’ll enjoy the “Hand Relief International” blog. Here’s the latest post, on innovation in development:

Speaking about thinking – I have been thinking about “innovation” a lot lately, as I noticed the word is all the rage these days. The challenge in our sector is how to “integrate innovation” in our language without changing much about the way things work.  … Passing innovation in a world dominated by career professionals with many years in the business and certain ways of doing things is a pretty tall order but then donor’s don’t really want to see much rocking of the boat happening either – that would force them to change their ways, which always makes them uncomfortable – they want to see the word used a lot, and they want to hear the occasional 300-words story about it, that can be put in a neat textbox in a report.

(Thanks to @AIDSPolicyProj for the link to the Dan Pink video)

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

Join the conversation

2 Comments

  1. Owen–you are on to something. I like the application of Pink’s ideas to frame development work. He’s DC based and a parent in my kids’ school. Maybe worth bringing him in to CGD for a talk on this idea.

    See his book, “A Whole New Mind” on how parents in the U.S. should be thinking about their kids’ futures, given the changing world order. V. interesting.

    One question? How do you reconcile these views with those in COD Aid, where incentives are clearly being proposed to motivate government officials to get the job done? Using this analysis, would you say that achieving many development outcomes involve simple, straightforward tasks? If not, then incentives may not work? Just wondering….

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply to Nandini Oomman Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *