Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation

Dan Pink’s 2009 talk on The Puzzle of Motivation was one of the most-watched TED Talks (see the video link above) and draws from the ideas he researched for his book ‘Drive’. In the book he explores the research around aspects of intrinsic motivation which he divides into autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

This knowledge of human behaviour counters traditional models of motivation driven by rewards and punishment (i.e. ‘carrot and stick’) which are dominated by a focus on external factors such as pay.

This new thinking around motivation is based around Self-Determination Theory (see Ryan and Deci, 2000), although the origins also link back to the core ideas of systems thinkers and practitioners such as Deming, who was also a student of psychology.

A sense of purpose is essential for people to focus their work AND to give meaning to their work (Deming 1994). Autonomy involves the opportunity to influence the work that is being done and is based on an ability to make decisions using information to hand.

As Pink points out, any work  requiring some degree of cognitive ability (i.e. aside from the most menial), will see higher worker performance when degrees of autonomy, mastery and purpose are increased.


Deming, W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Pink D. (2009) Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books.

Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000) Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55 (1): 68-78.

Other links:

Motivation revamped: a summary of Daniel H. Pink’s new theory of what motivates us