Yesterday we attended a fascinating luncheon talk by Daniel Pink, part of our local Community Foundation’s lecture series. Mr. Pink is a NYT best-selling author and an expert in the science of motivation.

While his talk would be directly relevant for employers trying to find ways to keep employees engaged and motivated, I was pleased that it was relevant to us as well.

Among the many “take-aways” was the fact that people are best motivated when they see a bigger purpose to their work than just earning a paycheck and keeping the boss happy. He referenced an interesting study done at the University of Michigan using students working a call center soliciting donations from alumni. The students were divided into 3 testing groups. Before beginning their workday the students in group one (the control group) were required to read a random newspaper article. The students in group 2 read a letter from a former student who had worked the job, describing how the job had helped him┬ádevelop skills that led to his current lucrative position as an advertising executive. The students in group 3 read a letter from a woman describing how she had grown up in poverty and had been unable to afford college, but that thanks to a scholarship from the university, funded by alumni donations, she had been able to attend, had gone on to medical school and was now a pediatrician. The study found that the students in the third group generated, on average, twice the amount of donations as the students in groups one and two. Knowing the potential good their work was doing motivated them to do it better.

Even though we have no employees to motivate, I see this research as relevant to what we do. We make it a point of emphasis that we don’t farm this way just to earn money, but also because we are trying to contribute to making a better world. And we try to help our customers see that when they get their food from farms like ours they’re not only getting better food, they’re also a part of making a better world. I have long believed that humans have an innate desire to want to be part of something bigger than just meeting their basic needs. I think we are somehow hard-wired to want to plug into a transcendent goodness and participate in its good work. I know that doesn’t resonate with everyone, but its a major motivator for me, and I was pleased to learn that there is scientific support for the notion.

And now, for a laugh, watch this brief video to see how monkeys respond to unequal pay for equal work.