2009-08-25

Performance-based rewards considered harmful

One of this year's TED talks was seriously counterintuitive but extremely well-founded. Dan Pink's talk on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation illustrates the scientific conclusions that high financial incentives for success increase the length of time taken to solve a cognitive problem.

The research establishing this result is clearly referenced (“Large stakes and big mistakes” and “Incentives, Decision Frames, and Motivation Crowding Out — An Experimental Investigation”). The implications are huge: higher bonuses don't lead to higher performance when the problem is nontrivial (don't tell your local bean-counter). Pink's alternative motivators (autonomy, mastery and purpose) aren't as well-founded, but they have a certain intuitive appeal.

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