A sense of progress

I was listening this morning to an interesting HBR Ideacast where Daniel Pink was talking about the findings in his new book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. You know it’s good when you start trying to scribble down notes in a moving train!

Anyway, a few of the key points I took away from the podcast were:

1. Traditional “carrots & sticks” (i.e. incentives & punishments) work really well in routine, focused, clearly defined tasks. But they work quite poorly in the sort of creative, fluid, less defined tasks that are typical of knowledge work today.

2. The #1 motivator in the work context is a sense of progress. In other words, we all feel a strong need to get better at things, to improve, maybe even to develop mastery. Finding ways to give people a sense of progress is critical if you seek to get the best out of them in the work environment …or to get the best out of yourself, particularly if you’re self-employed.

3. Contribution is another under-rated but powerful motivator of human behaviour. We want to make a difference, and contribute to something greater than ourselves. Interestingly, it’s important not to layer monetary incentives on top of this …because it can backfire. A classic example is open source software – paying contributors would arguably destroy the fabric that binds so many disparate people in a collaborative effort.

Reflecting on my own efforts in launching and promoting Software Shortlist, I can see the power of this ‘sense of progress’. There’s nothing quite like positive feedback from the market (in the form of sales) or the satisfaction of hitting a major milestone to encourage further efforts. And conversely, the toughest times are those when you’re working hard but don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. Finding ways to give yourself a sense of progress seems like a powerful antidote in those challenging situations – for example, highlighting some of the lessons learned along the journey.

To find out more, listen to HBR Ideacast #183 or check out the book at Amazon:

"Drive" by Daniel H. Pink