Autonomy, Mastery And Purpose, Or How I Finally Worked Out Why I Write A Blog

I was watching an excellent lecture on TED a couple of days ago.

Al Gore’s old speechwriter, Dan Pink, talked about the science of motivation.

He started by saying, “I graduated in the part of my law school class that made the top 90% possible.”

Very good.

Anyway, he went on to say that extra money does not motivate creative people. It motivates people who do not need to be creative in their tasks, but with creative people it simply provides a paralysing distraction that narrows focus and concentrates the mind. It means that you don’t allow your thoughts to be lateral.

So if financial incentives don’t work, what does?

Three things:

Autonomy. Being able to do your own thing. Being in charge of your own shit. Freedom of will. Google allows its employees to spend 20% of the week working on whatever they want. This produces many great benefits for Google.

Mastery. Can you improve at what you do?

Purpose. Does what you are doing have meaning beyond the task itself?

All intrinsic motivators, unlike the extrinsic motivation of money.

Occasionally, people ask why I bother to write this blog. Up until I saw this lecture I didn’t really know. Even though I happily do it every day, there has been little or no concrete or financial benefit.

Well, it provides me with all three of those things in spades.

I can write pretty much whatever I want, I can get better at it and I can believe, however misguidedly, that it makes a miniscule positive difference to some people’s days.

I also write fiction, which provides the same three things (the third is somewhat theoretical until I get published).

I’m only pointing this out because many people who work in creative departments have told me they are lacking at least one of the three, and they are not happy about it. They are not given the chance to impose their abilities on their work, they don’t make enough ads to improve at the skill and without making anything they think is decent, their work has no purpose.

So this is just a suggestion: if you don’t have these three things in your life, find something that provides them and do it as much as you can.

As Dan says, ‘the science confirms what we know in our hearts’.