Animated Video – Lively RSA Animate [April 2010], adapted from Dan Pink‘s talk at the RSA (below), illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace. [Inspired from the work of Economics professor Dan Ariely at MIT along with his colleagues].

What drives us? Some quotes: […] Once the task called for even rudimentary COGNITIVE skills a larger reward led to poorer performance […] Once you get above rudimentary cognitive skills, rewards do not work that way [linear], this defies the laws of behavioural physics ! […] But when a task gets more complicated, it requires some conceptual, creative thinking, these kind of motivators do not work any more […] Higher incentives led to worse performance. […] Fact: Money is a motivator. In a strange way. If you don’t pay enough, people won’t be motivated. But now there is another paradox. The best use of money, and that is: pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. […] …Socialism…??

[…] Most upper-management and sales force personnel, as well as workers in many other jobs, are paid based on performance, which is widely perceived as motivating effort and enhancing productivity relative to non-contingent pay schemes. However, psychological research suggests that excessive rewards can in some cases produce supra-optimal motivation, resulting in a decline in performance. To test whether very high monetary rewards can decrease performance, we conducted a set of experiments at MIT, the University of Chicago, and rural India. Subjects in our experiment worked on different tasks and received performance-contingent payments that varied in amount from small to large relative to their typical levels of pay. With some important exceptions, we observed that high reward levels can have detrimental effects on performance. […] abstract, Dan Ariely, Uri Gneezy, George Loewenstein, and Nina Mazar, “Large Stakes and Big Mistakes“, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Working paper no. 05-11, Research Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision-Making, US, July 2005. [PDF available here] (improved 2009 version below)

Video lecture – On the surprising science of motivation: analyst Daniel Pink examines the puzzle of motivation [Jul. 2009], starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. So maybe, there is a different way forward. [Inspired from the work of Economics professor Dan Ariely at MIT along with his colleagues].

[…] Payment-based performance is commonplace across many jobs in the marketplace. Many, if not most upper-management, sales force personnel, and workers in a wide variety of other jobs are rewarded for their effort based on observed measures of performance. The intuitive logic for performance-based compensation is to motivate individuals to increase their effort, and hence their output, and indeed there is some evidence that payment for performance can increase performance (Lazear, 2000). The expectation that increasing performance-contingent incentives will improve performance rests on two subsidiary assumptions: (1) that increasing performance-contingent incentives will lead to greater motivation and effort and (2) that this increase in motivation and effort will result in improved performance. The first assumption that transitory performance-based increases in pay will produce increased motivation and effort is generally accepted, although there are some notable exceptions. Gneezy and Rustichini (2000a), for example, have documented situations, both in laboratory and field experiments, in which people who were not paid at all exerted greater effort than those who were paid a small amount (see also Gneezy and Rustichini, 2000b; Frey and Jegen, 2001; Heyman and Ariely, 2004). These results show that in some situations paying a small amount in comparison to paying nothing seems to change the perceived nature of the task, which, if the amount of pay is not substantial, may result in a decline of motivation and effort.

Another situation in which effort may not respond in the expected fashion to a change in transitory wages is when workers have an earnings target that they apply narrowly. For example, Camerer, Babcock, Loewenstein and Thaler (1997) found that New York City cab drivers quit early on days when their hourly earnings were high and worked longer hours when their earnings were low. The authors speculated that the cab drivers may have had a daily earnings target beyond which their motivation to continue working dropped off. Although there appear to be exceptions to the generality of the positive relationship between pay and effort, our focus in this paper is on the second assumption – that an increase in motivation and effort will result in improved performance. The experiments we report address the question of whether increased effort necessarily leads to improved performance. Providing subjects with different levels of incentives, including incentives that were very high relative to their normal income, we examine whether, across a variety of different tasks, an increase in contingent pay leads to an improvement or decline in performance. We find that in some cases, and in fact most of the cases we examined, very high incentives result in a decrease in performance. These results provide a counterexample to the assumption that an increase in motivation and effort will always result in improved performance. […] in Dan Ariely, Uri Gneezy, George Loewenstein, and Nina Mazar, “Large Stakes and Big Mistakes“, Review of Economic Studies (2009) 75, 1-19 0034-6527/09. [PDF available here]

Now, these are not stories, these are facts. These are one of the most robust findings in social science,… yet, one of the most ignored [sic]. And they keep coming in. Such as the fallacy of the supply and demand model (March 2008). Anyway, enough good material (a simple paper with profound implications)… for one day. But hey, …Oh, if you are still wondering what other paper inspired the specific drawings at minute 7′:40” and on, in the first video over this post, well, here it is: Kristina Shampan’er and Dan Ariely (2007), “How Small is Zero Price? The True Value of Free Products“, in Marketing Science. Vol. 26, No. 6, 742 – 757. [PDF available here]… Got it ?!