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Annotated captions of Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation in English

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I need to make a confession at the outset here.

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A little over 20 years ago

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I did something that I regret,

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something that I'm not particularly proud of,

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something that, in many ways, I wish no one would ever know,

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but here I feel kind of obliged to reveal.

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(Laughter)

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In the late 1980s,

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in a moment of youthful indiscretion,

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I went to law school.

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(Laughter)

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Now, in America law is a professional degree:

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you get your university degree, then you go on to law school.

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And when I got to law school,

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I didn't do very well.

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To put it mildly, I didn't do very well.

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I, in fact, graduated in the part of my law school class

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that made the top 90 percent possible.

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(Laughter)

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Thank you.

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I never practiced law a day in my life;

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I pretty much wasn't allowed to.

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(Laughter)

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But today, against my better judgment,

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against the advice of my own wife,

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I want to try to dust off some of those legal skills --

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what's left of those legal skills.

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I don't want to tell you a story.

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I want to make a case.

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I want to make a hard-headed, evidence-based,

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dare I say lawyerly case,

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for rethinking how we run our businesses.

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So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, take a look at this.

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This is called the candle problem.

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Some of you might have seen this before.

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It's created in 1945

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by a psychologist named Karl Duncker.

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Karl Duncker created this experiment

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that is used in a whole variety of experiments in behavioral science.

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And here's how it works. Suppose I'm the experimenter.

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I bring you into a room. I give you a candle,

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some thumbtacks and some matches.

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And I say to you, "Your job

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is to attach the candle to the wall

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so the wax doesn't drip onto the table." Now what would you do?

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Now many people begin trying to thumbtack the candle to the wall.

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Doesn't work.

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Somebody, some people -- and I saw somebody

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kind of make the motion over here --

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some people have a great idea where they

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light the match, melt the side of the candle, try to adhere it to the wall.

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It's an awesome idea. Doesn't work.

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And eventually, after five or 10 minutes,

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most people figure out the solution,

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which you can see here.

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The key is to overcome what's called functional fixedness.

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You look at that box and you see it only as a receptacle for the tacks.

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But it can also have this other function,

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as a platform for the candle. The candle problem.

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Now I want to tell you about an experiment

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using the candle problem,

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done by a scientist named Sam Glucksberg,

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who is now at Princeton University in the U.S.

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This shows the power of incentives.

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Here's what he did. He gathered his participants.

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And he said, "I'm going to time you. How quickly you can solve this problem?"

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To one group he said,

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"I'm going to time you to establish norms,

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averages for how long it typically takes

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someone to solve this sort of problem."

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To the second group he offered rewards.

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He said, "If you're in the top 25 percent of the fastest times,

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you get five dollars.

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If you're the fastest of everyone we're testing here today,

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you get 20 dollars."

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Now this is several years ago. Adjusted for inflation,

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it's a decent sum of money for a few minutes of work.

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It's a nice motivator.

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Question: How much faster

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did this group solve the problem?

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Answer: It took them, on average,

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three and a half minutes longer.

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Three and a half minutes longer. Now this makes no sense right?

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I mean, I'm an American. I believe in free markets.

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That's not how it's supposed to work. Right?

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(Laughter)

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If you want people to perform better,

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you reward them. Right?

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Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show.

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Incentivize them. That's how business works.

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But that's not happening here.

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You've got an incentive designed to

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sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity,

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and it does just the opposite.

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It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.

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And what's interesting about this experiment is that it's not an aberration.

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This has been replicated over and over

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and over again, for nearly 40 years.

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These contingent motivators --

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if you do this, then you get that --

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work in some circumstances.

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But for a lot of tasks, they actually either don't work

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or, often, they do harm.

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This is one of the most robust findings

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in social science,

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and also one of the most ignored.

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I spent the last couple of years looking at the science of

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human motivation,

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particularly the dynamics of extrinsic motivators

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and intrinsic motivators.

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And I'm telling you, it's not even close.

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If you look at the science, there is a mismatch

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between what science knows and what business does.

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And what's alarming here is that our business operating system --

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think of the set of assumptions and protocols beneath our businesses,

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how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources --

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it's built entirely around these extrinsic motivators,

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around carrots and sticks.

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That's actually fine for many kinds of 20th century tasks.

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But for 21st century tasks,

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that mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach

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doesn't work, often doesn't work, and often does harm.

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Let me show you what I mean.

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So Glucksberg did another experiment similar to this

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where he presented the problem in a slightly different way,

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like this up here. Okay?

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Attach the candle to the wall so the wax doesn't drip onto the table.

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Same deal. You: we're timing for norms.

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You: we're incentivizing.

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What happened this time?

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This time, the incentivized group

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kicked the other group's butt.

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Why? Because when the tacks are out of the box,

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it's pretty easy isn't it?

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(Laughter)

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If-then rewards work really well

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for those sorts of tasks,

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where there is a simple set of rules and a clear destination

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to go to.

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Rewards, by their very nature,

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narrow our focus, concentrate the mind;

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that's why they work in so many cases.

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And so, for tasks like this,

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a narrow focus, where you just see the goal right there,

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zoom straight ahead to it,

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they work really well.

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But for the real candle problem,

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you don't want to be looking like this.

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The solution is not over here. The solution is on the periphery.

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You want to be looking around.

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That reward actually narrows our focus

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and restricts our possibility.

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Let me tell you why this is so important.

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In western Europe,

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in many parts of Asia,

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in North America, in Australia,

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white-collar workers are doing less of

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this kind of work,

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and more of this kind of work.

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That routine, rule-based, left-brain work --

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certain kinds of accounting, certain kinds of financial analysis,

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certain kinds of computer programming --

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has become fairly easy to outsource,

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fairly easy to automate.

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Software can do it faster.

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Low-cost providers around the world can do it cheaper.

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So what really matters are the more right-brained

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creative, conceptual kinds of abilities.

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Think about your own work.

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Think about your own work.

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Are the problems that you face, or even the problems

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we've been talking about here,

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are those kinds of problems -- do they have a clear set of rules,

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and a single solution? No.

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The rules are mystifying.

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The solution, if it exists at all,

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is surprising and not obvious.

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Everybody in this room

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is dealing with their own version

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of the candle problem.

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And for candle problems of any kind,

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in any field,

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those if-then rewards,

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the things around which we've built so many of our businesses,

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don't work.

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Now, I mean it makes me crazy.

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And this is not -- here's the thing.

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This is not a feeling.

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Okay? I'm a lawyer; I don't believe in feelings.

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This is not a philosophy.

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I'm an American; I don't believe in philosophy.

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(Laughter)

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This is a fact --

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or, as we say in my hometown of Washington, D.C.,

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a true fact.

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(Laughter)

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(Applause)

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Let me give you an example of what I mean.

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Let me marshal the evidence here,

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because I'm not telling you a story, I'm making a case.

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Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, some evidence:

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Dan Ariely, one of the great economists of our time,

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he and three colleagues, did a study of some MIT students.

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They gave these MIT students a bunch of games,

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games that involved creativity,

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and motor skills, and concentration.

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And the offered them, for performance,

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three levels of rewards:

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small reward, medium reward, large reward.

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Okay? If you do really well you get the large reward, on down.

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What happened? As long as the task involved only mechanical skill

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bonuses worked as they would be expected:

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the higher the pay, the better the performance.

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Okay? But one the task called for

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even rudimentary cognitive skill,

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a larger reward led to poorer performance.

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Then they said,

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"Okay let's see if there's any cultural bias here.

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Lets go to Madurai, India and test this."

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Standard of living is lower.

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In Madurai, a reward that is modest in North American standards,

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is more meaningful there.

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Same deal. A bunch of games, three levels of rewards.

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What happens?

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People offered the medium level of rewards

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did no better than people offered the small rewards.

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But this time, people offered the highest rewards,

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they did the worst of all.

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In eight of the nine tasks we examined across three experiments,

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higher incentives led to worse performance.

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Is this some kind of touchy-feely

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socialist conspiracy going on here?

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No. These are economists from MIT,

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from Carnegie Mellon, from the University of Chicago.

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And do you know who sponsored this research?

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The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States.

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That's the American experience.

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Let's go across the pond to the London School of Economics --

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LSE, London School of Economics,

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alma mater of 11 Nobel Laureates in economics.

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Training ground for great economic thinkers

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like George Soros, and Friedrich Hayek,

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and Mick Jagger. (Laughter)

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Last month, just last month,

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economists at LSE looked at 51 studies

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of pay-for-performance plans, inside of companies.

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Here's what the economists there said: "We find that financial incentives

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can result in a negative impact on overall performance."

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There is a mismatch between what science knows

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and what business does.

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And what worries me, as we stand here in the rubble

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of the economic collapse,

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is that too many organizations

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are making their decisions,

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their policies about talent and people,

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based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined,

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and rooted more in folklore than in science.

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And if we really want to get out of this economic mess,

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and if we really want high performance on those

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definitional tasks of the 21st century,

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the solution is not to do more of the wrong things,

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to entice people with a sweeter carrot,

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or threaten them with a sharper stick.

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We need a whole new approach.

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And the good news about all of this is that the scientists

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who've been studying motivation have given us this new approach.

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It's an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation.

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Around the desire to do things because they matter,

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because we like it, because they're interesting,

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because they are part of something important.

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And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses

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revolves around three elements:

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autonomy, mastery and purpose.

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Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives.

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Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.

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Purpose: the yearning to do what we do

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in the service of something larger than ourselves.

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These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system

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for our businesses.

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I want to talk today only about autonomy.

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In the 20th century, we came up with this idea of management.

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Management did not emanate from nature.

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Management is like -- it's not a tree,

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it's a television set.

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Okay? Somebody invented it.

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And it doesn't mean it's going to work forever.

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Management is great.

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Traditional notions of management are great

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if you want compliance.

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But if you want engagement, self-direction works better.

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Let me give you some examples of some kind of radical

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notions of self-direction.

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What this means -- you don't see a lot of it,

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but you see the first stirrings of something really interesting going on,

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because what it means is paying people adequately

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and fairly, absolutely --

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getting the issue of money off the table,

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and then giving people lots of autonomy.

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Let me give you some examples.

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How many of you have heard of the company Atlassian?

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It looks like less than half.

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(Laughter)

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Atlassian is an Australian software company.

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And they do something incredibly cool.

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A few times a year they tell their engineers,

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"Go for the next 24 hours and work on anything you want,

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as long as it's not part of your regular job.

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Work on anything you want."

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So that engineers use this time to come up with

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a cool patch for code, come up with an elegant hack.

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Then they present all of the stuff that they've developed

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to their teammates, to the rest of the company,

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in this wild and wooly all-hands meeting

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at the end of the day.

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And then, being Australians, everybody has a beer.

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They call them FedEx Days.

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Why? Because you have to deliver something overnight.

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It's pretty. It's not bad. It's a huge trademark violation,

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but it's pretty clever.

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(Laughter)

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That one day of intense autonomy

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has produced a whole array of software fixes

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that might never have existed.

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And it's worked so well that Atlassian has taken it to the next level

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with 20 Percent Time --

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done, famously, at Google --

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where engineers can work, spend 20 percent of their time

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working on anything they want.

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They have autonomy over their time,

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their task, their team, their technique.

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Okay? Radical amounts of autonomy.

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And at Google, as many of you know,

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about half of the new products in a typical year

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are birthed during that 20 Percent Time:

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things like Gmail, Orkut, Google News.

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Let me give you an even more radical example of it:

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something called the Results Only Work Environment,

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the ROWE,

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15:11

created by two American consultants, in place

tedtalks 15:11
15:13

in place at about a dozen companies around North America.

tedtalks 15:13
15:17

In a ROWE people don't have schedules.

tedtalks 15:17
15:19

They show up when they want.

tedtalks 15:19
15:21

They don't have to be in the office at a certain time,

tedtalks 15:21
15:23

or any time.

tedtalks 15:23
15:25

They just have to get their work done.

tedtalks 15:25
15:27

How they do it, when they do it,

tedtalks 15:27
15:30

where they do it, is totally up to them.

tedtalks 15:30
15:34

Meetings in these kinds of environments are optional.

tedtalks 15:34
15:36

What happens?

tedtalks 15:36
15:39

Almost across the board, productivity goes up,

tedtalks 15:39
15:42

worker engagement goes up,

tedtalks 15:42
15:45

worker satisfaction goes up, turnover goes down.

tedtalks 15:45
15:47

Autonomy, mastery and purpose,

tedtalks 15:47
15:49

These are the building blocks of a new way of doing things.

tedtalks 15:49
15:52

Now some of you might look at this and say,

tedtalks 15:52
15:55

"Hmm, that sounds nice, but it's Utopian."

tedtalks 15:55
16:00

And I say, "Nope. I have proof."

tedtalks 16:00
16:02

The mid-1990s, Microsoft started

tedtalks 16:02
16:04

an encyclopedia called Encarta.

tedtalks 16:04
16:06

They had deployed all the right incentives,

tedtalks 16:06
16:09

all the right incentives. They paid professionals to

tedtalks 16:09
16:11

write and edit thousands of articles.

tedtalks 16:11
16:13

Well-compensated managers oversaw the whole thing

tedtalks 16:13
16:18

to make sure it came in on budget and on time.

tedtalks 16:18
16:20

A few years later another encyclopedia got started.

tedtalks 16:20
16:23

Different model, right?

tedtalks 16:23
16:27

Do it for fun. No one gets paid a cent, or a Euro or a Yen.

tedtalks 16:27
16:30

Do it because you like to do it.

tedtalks 16:30
16:33

Now if you had, just 10 years ago,

tedtalks 16:33
16:35

if you had gone to an economist, anywhere,

tedtalks 16:35
16:39

and said, "Hey, I've got these two different models for creating an encyclopedia.

tedtalks 16:39
16:42

If they went head to head, who would win?"

tedtalks 16:42
16:46

10 years ago you could not have found a single sober economist anywhere

tedtalks 16:46
16:48

on planet Earth

tedtalks 16:48
16:50

who would have predicted the Wikipedia model.

tedtalks 16:50
16:53

This is the titanic battle between these two approaches.

tedtalks 16:53
16:56

This is the Ali-Frazier of motivation. Right?

tedtalks 16:56
16:58

This is the Thrilla' in Manila.

tedtalks 16:58
17:01

Alright? Intrinsic motivators versus extrinsic motivators.

tedtalks 17:01
17:03

Autonomy, mastery and purpose,

tedtalks 17:03
17:05

versus carrot and sticks. And who wins?

tedtalks 17:05
17:08

Intrinsic motivation, autonomy, mastery and purpose,

tedtalks 17:08
17:12

in a knockout. Let me wrap up.

tedtalks 17:12
17:15

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

tedtalks 17:15
17:17

And here is what science knows.

tedtalks 17:17
17:19

One: Those 20th century rewards,

tedtalks 17:19
17:22

those motivators we think are a natural part of business,

tedtalks 17:22
17:26

do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.

tedtalks 17:26
17:30

Two: Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity.

tedtalks 17:30
17:32

Three: The secret to high performance

tedtalks 17:32
17:34

isn't rewards and punishments,

tedtalks 17:34
17:36

but that unseen intrinsic drive --

tedtalks 17:36
17:39

the drive to do things for their own sake.

tedtalks 17:39
17:41

The drive to do things cause they matter.

tedtalks 17:41
17:43

And here's the best part. Here's the best part.

tedtalks 17:43
17:46

We already know this. The science confirms what we know in our hearts.

tedtalks 17:46
17:49

So, if we repair this mismatch

tedtalks 17:49
17:51

between what science knows and what business does,

tedtalks 17:51
17:54

if we bring our motivation, notions of motivation

tedtalks 17:54
17:56

into the 21st century,

tedtalks 17:56
18:00

if we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology

tedtalks 18:00
18:02

of carrots and sticks,

tedtalks 18:02
18:05

we can strengthen our businesses,

tedtalks 18:05
18:08

we can solve a lot of those candle problems,

tedtalks 18:08
18:12

and maybe, maybe, maybe

tedtalks 18:12
18:14

we can change the world.

tedtalks 18:14
18:16

I rest my case.

tedtalks 18:16
18:19

(Applause)