The difference between incentives and motivations


BBCs’ September 6 2012 InBiz podcast this morning had a good piece with Clayton Christensen, The Innovators Dilemna, where Clayton thinks that conventional businesses with their bonus driven mentality, often have the wrong idea about motivating the people how work for them.

Clayton Christensen:

There really is a difference between incentives and motivation. What an incentive is ‘I am going to pay you to want what I want.’ And as along as you pay people to want what you want they do it. The minute you stop paying them, to want what you want, they stop. And they are not motivated to do anything. They were just incentivized to do just that.

What motivation is in contrast, is an engine inside of you, that you are so committed to, that whether you are paid or not, it causes you to want to keep sacrificing and serving for the cause that you’re engaged in.

And so if you want people that are working with you or for you to be motivated, then what you have to do is help them see in the work what it is that causes them to be motivated.

The most important of these is achievement. And then right after that comes recognition, and responsibility, the opportunity to learn, and once I realized that if I can create a company like that my people will be with me regardless of whether we are doing poorly or doing well.

Instead what most managers do is they confuse motivation with incentives and therefore the people that work for them, don’t have those motivators in their lives and you just pay them to want what you want.


I am glad to see this being talked about more in business. I think we need it. Also think it is the most important question to answer before starting a company.


Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us


My good friend Chad Fournier recently shared this great link about Dan Pink’s excellent book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.

This video blew me away.

When and how money does (and does not) motivate us?

  • Turns out money is a fine motivator for mechanical tasks (like ditch digging)
  • But is actually a terrible motivator for things that require any kind of form of engagement and creative thinking

The best use of money as a motivator, is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.

  • Why innovation bonuses don’t work and what you can do about it!
  • Why people blog, share ideas, write software, and give it away for free?
  • What happens when the profit motive becomes unhitched from the purpose?

This video beautifully summarizes why people like you and me get up early in the morning, head to Starbucks to blog on weekends (even when you are in another city) and go out of our way to give our best ideas away.

If you can spare the 10 minutes watch this video (3 millions others already have!).

You can watch more Dan Pink here at TED.

%d bloggers like this: