Autonomy and Purpose as Motivators

Dan Pink in his book Drive lays out 3 factors in motivating people: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. While I’m not generally a fan of high-level theory that oversimplifies and (in its abstractness) provides little enlightenment, I have found that breaking down motivation problems into these 3 factors has made my thinking clearer and helped me solve motivation problems (in both myself and friends). I guess I’ve come to appreciate this theory much more after using it in practice.

Here’s another example of this theory in practice, thanks to my global health class teaching assistant Jan-Walter de Neve (this video presents his brother’s research). Paying taxes is not a very motivating process right now, but giving the taxpayer more autonomy (by allowing her some say in where her money goes, even if she only gets to recommend rather than actually make the final choice in where it goes) and purpose (by showing her the government budget and thus giving her context for the purpose of her taxpaying) increases how motivated the taxpayer is in the process. Watch the video to learn more!


2 thoughts on “Autonomy and Purpose as Motivators

  1. Interesting! I like the connection you draw between Drive and De Neve’s talk on tax incentives. Looking at taxes from a more data-driven perspective, creating an interactive tax form where citizens could have opinions on where their taxes were allocated would also be an incredible source of data for the government – it’d give an interesting pulse on what citizens believe are important and need funding.

    • That’s an interesting point! Perhaps there already exist ways to collect that data on citizens’ beliefs about important funding. I imagine OpenGov, which displays city government’s budget data transparently to its citizens (see Palo Alto for example), might be a good platform for collecting such data.

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