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 develop 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.

15 comments on “Motivation

  1. dilip says:

    Well written article on motivation and the video was hilarious but conveyed the point
    Thanks and regards


  2. I saw that video a few weeks ago – hilarious!
    I am with you all the way on being motivated to do the right thing to make things better for the world, the environment, animals, other people. I like the way it feels to do a job, task, etc well and to just do it because it is the right thing to do. That is all the motivation I need, although a few grapes now and then would be nice 😋


    • Bill says:

      I shared it on here about a year and a half ago, but it’s good enough to justify a return appearance. 🙂

      It was a fascinating talk. He said most of us believe (reasonably) that the best way to motivate desired behavior is to reward it and the best way to reduce unwanted behavior is to punish it. But research has proven that while using rewards and punishments is a very effective way to obtain a desired result, that is only if the task is purely mechanical and short in duration. For things requiring cognitive skills/creativity, and/or where the results take a long time to materialize, that kind of management/motivation doesn’t work. What does work in those situations is creating an environment where the worker feels that he is making a contribution and can derive some satisfaction out of a job well done. Another interesting study showed that when kitchen workers in a restaurant are allowed to see the people for whom they’re cooking, they food they cook is superior to food cooked without knowing or seeing who will eat it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. BeeHappee says:

    Bill, for a second I thought video was about my kids, then I saw you said monkeys. 🙂
    I’ve had only one manager in my career who truly knew how to motivate people, he was a great mentor, and very rarely you run into people with such skills. Whether you are motivating others, or motivating yourself to weed those carrots in a mosquito infested humid heat, your article is right on point.


    • Bill says:

      According to him “management” as we understand it today was invented in the mid-1800s to increase efficiency in factory workers. It doesn’t work in most of our modern work environments but we keep right on doing it. He asked the audience to think of the best boss they ever had and, just as in your case, it was likely someone who gave feedback, allowed the employee to understand the value of the work and offer suggestions to improve it, etc.

      He’s an entertaining speaker and the science was quite interesting. I’m sure his TED talk would be worthwhile.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Smart monkey. Quite hilarious. “Take this cucumber and….” Having worked with volunteers and non-profit organizations all of my life, I can certainly speak to the value of motivation. –Curt


  5. This is relevant to just about everything we humans do. Thanks!


  6. Joanna says:

    A very good point! And a timely reminder


  7. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, there is a basic need in mankind for self worth. Everyone needs to feel like they are doing something that has worth to others. I suspect that many times depression comes from the feeling that there is no worth in life. Money or status doesn’t really fulfill that need. For me it can come from some thing as simple as starting with a super weedy garden bed and ending up with a nice clean weed free end result. Accomplishment kind of dove tails right in with self worth as well. The career job that I worked for 41 years supplied both of those needs for me. Yes, the money was good but what got me through the tough times was not the amount, sufficient or not, of money.

    The monkey video is indeed funny. Unfortunately, I have seen that same scenario in the work place.

    Have a great motivation day.


    • Bill says:

      Great points Dave. It seems to me that it will depend in part on where we are in life. We were talking about it on the way home and I thought of the example of poor immigrants working very difficult jobs for very low pay. For them the motivation is more likely that they are putting food on their families’ plates, making sure their children can go to school and have health care, etc. That’s motivation enough. But in the next generation it will be different. They’ll be educated and acclimated. They’ll have much better jobs and won’t be struggling to survive. They will need a different kind of motivation.


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