I have been approached by candidates in the market that have made poor career decisions; some who wished that they had never left their current company. Others wished they hadn’t missed out on an opportunity to do that.

Karl Danker created an experiment based on behavioural science ‘The Candle Problem’. In the experiment, your job is to attach a candle to a cork board on the wall so that, when lit, the wax does not drip onto the table. You are given a candle, box of matches and a box of drawing pins to complete the task.

You have a choice of groups to join. Which group (below) would you choose to solve the puzzle?

Group one

You must attach the candle to the wall so the wax does not drip on the table. You are being timed to complete the task with the opportunity to triple up your bus fare home if completing the task within the top 25% time frame.


Group two

You must attach the candle to the wall so the wax does not drip on the table, you are being timed.

Psychologist Dan Pink found that the group being given money was 3 minutes slower than the other group.

A survey by Michigan University asked people what would improve the quality of their lives; the majority of the people surveyed said “more money”.

Research backs up the idea that, for most tasks, you cannot incentivise people to perform better with money, but with other extrinsic motivational methods. Dan Pink says “…this is one of the most robust findings from social science, but also the most ignored. There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does”.

How can extrinsic motivation work for us candidates in the 20th Century, when we are asked what are your motivations to join the company? What are your motivations on leaving the company? Or what motivates you?

You are in the FA Cup final, competing in front of a capacity of 90,000 people live on TV watch by over 100+ countries; and over 400 million people live viewers, you are about to take a penalty that would be the deciding match winner. How different would this be compared to the penalty in the park where no one was watching? Dan Pink found on simple mechanistic tasks, rewards improve performance, but any kind of cognitive function the higher reward decreases performance.

Dan Pink has found that intrinsic motivators create a desire to do more for personal reasons. It revolves around:

Autonomy – ability to act on your own lives. Management is designed to improve process and compliance and decreases autonomy for most. You may want to increase autonomy – giving people a personal project to achieve a goal within a time frame.

Mastery – improve your own skill level and personal development

Purpose – the need to do what we want to do for better reasons than ourselves.

Some organizations today are offering their staff a day off normal work to develop whatever they want or contribute to any socially rewarding activity for the local community – as long as it is unrelated to their normal work and they deliver something by the end of the day. Google adopted this and allocates 20% of their time to personal projects. Around half of Google’s new products come from engineer’s personal projects.

Both TV firm Netflix and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group offered 175 of their staff unlimited holidays. Later Branson wrote “We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days they work. Just as we don’t have a nine-to-five policy, we don’t need a holiday policy.”

Dan Pink compared Microsoft’s Encarta vs Wikipedia, Encarta was built by well paid professionals and managers, incentivized with standard extrinsic motivators. Wikipedia was built by unpaid (autonomous) volunteers for fun, and because they believed in the project. In 1999 no economist would have tipped that Encarta’s model would be overtaken by Wikipedia’s, but it has.

Before changing your career have you ever really thought of what motivates you?

Kind regards
Oli Tran

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