Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates your Customer

Dan Pink, the author of the number New York Times Best Seller, Drive recently spoke at TED revealing surprising truths about what motivates us. I found the presentation so unbelievably interesting and his thoughts so easily applicable to marketing, that it would be perfect for you to get some insights on how to better understand your customers, with a new twist. But it can also be applicable on how to get the most out of your marketing department.


Dan discusses the fact that our customers are not as endlessly manipulated or predictable as we think. He examined a study which was undertaken with students at MIT in the US.  It was all about how to incentivise their performance. They provided them with three levels of rewards. Many of you will say that this is a typical motivation scheme within organisations, however there were two interesting findings.

  1. As long as the task was regarding a mechanical skill, bonuses worked as expected      i.e higher pay equals better performance etc
  2. Once the task formed required rudimentary cognitive skill, larger rewards lead to poorer performance

This study has led to the conclusion that is contrary in economics, Dan says that it almost seems left wing and socialist and defies the laws of behavioural physics.

This study was replicated over and over again. For simple tasks it worked, for tasks that are algometric, when tasks becomes more conceptual creative thinking it didn’t work.

The study also found that if you don’t pay people to work then they won’t be motivated. The best motivator – and one to be aware of for staff – the best motivator simply was ‘pay people enough that they won’t be thinking about money but they’ll be thinking about the work’.

Once you do that, Dan says there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance and personal satisfaction.

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed. To direct our own lives. In many ways traditional notions run fowl of that. Management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, self-direction is better.

Dan gave a few e.g. including an Australian business, Atlassian, which is a software company. They told developers that for next 24 hours, they can work on anything they want. They did it in an informal fun manner with beer, cake etc. Just one day of pure, undiluted inspiration.

Autonomy has led to a whole ray of ideas for new products that otherwise would never have emerged.

Organisations should more often say to their employers: ‘You probably want to do something interesting, let’s get out of your way.’

Another challenge is the rise of purpose motive. More and more want to be seen as having a ‘purpose’ in life in general, and in the work that they do.

Today organisations need to be seen as doing good and ‘giving back’ to the community. Dan has made a few good points in his presentation to confirm why we need a sense of purpose. He provided a few example where people are offering their knowledge and free time to power companies like Linux – which powers ¼ of corporate servers in America; Apache which is servicing more than the majority of web services and Wikipedia which is completely free crowd sourced content. Another prime example that he didn’t mention was Druple – which is an  open source software maintained and developed by a community of 630,000+ users and developers; all for free.  Some smart marketing departments have taken this to their advantage. Organisations like Mofilm, which we recently spoke about in another blog Crowdsourced Creativity for the Uninspired Marketer, which has over 35,000 film makers providing free content on their books – and to their advantage. During discretionary time Dan says that employees do more work for free for others than they do their employer. Employers need to be taking advantage of the wasted talent and find out what truly motivates their staff.

The other point he made was about transcendent motive. When the profit motive becomes unhitched from the purpose motive, then people don’t do great things. More organisations are realising that an uninspiring workplace means uninspired results.

The organisations that are flourishing are animated by this purpose. Skype states: “Our goal is to be disruptive, but in the cause of making the world a better place”. Steve Job has been quoted as saying; “I want to put a ding in the universe”. That’s the kind of thinking that would make us go to work. Dan thinks that we are purpose maximisers not only profit maximisers. The science shows that we want to be self-directed. The big take away from his presentation is that if we start treating people like people and not horses. If we get past this ideology, we can build organisations that make us better off, but they also have the promise of making our world just a little bit better.

Your tasks for the week:
Get a sense of purpose for your next marketing campaign; stimulate your department by giving them free reign for a day; and get back motivation! Find out how you can get engaged with consumers for free. How your consumer can become your muse and provide free content. With your next campaign, arouse your customers’ excitement and brain activity, but more importantly, reward them and you will achieve a greater reward back.

This blog was posted in review of Dan Pink’s presentation at TED


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s