Dan Pink, a non-practicing attorney and former speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, just spent the past couple of years studying the science of employee motivation. He is about to publish a new book on the topic, which you can pre-order on Amazon: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Pink demonstrates that traditional thinking about employee motivation is all wrong. He draws three major conclusions about how to rethink the concept of motivation:

  1. Contingent motivators—extrinsic rewards for doing a good job—narrow employee focus, improving their work on simple, clear tasks;
  2. These contingent motivators, however, restrict creative thinking on complex problems;
  3. To motivate people to complete creative or complex activities, employees need intrinsic motivators, including autonomy, the ability to master a subject, and a clear sense of purpose.

Specific examples of this motivation approach in work include Google’s 20% Time, where engineers are given a full day each week to work on any project they want, and BestBuy’s R.O.W.E system, where employees can work wherever and whenever they want so long as they get their work assignments done.

Take a minute to think if there are ways you could add these intrinsic motivators to your firm, then check out the following 18-minute video of Dan Pink discussing motivation at the recent TED Conference:

(photo: nickwheeleroz)


  1. Excellent points. Many lawyers I have counseled regarding their careers are seeking work that provides them as sense of value, worth and accomplishment. Sometimes that can be measured by money and increasing responsibility, as in traditional private firm practice, but not always so. Sometimes one employer can’t provide the intrinsic rewards a person needs and they have to look elsewhere. Doing so is not always a measure of the employer’s failure. It may just be the individual’s enhanced understanding of what he or she truly values.

  2. Avatar RFW says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I may have to order the book. Motivation is an interesting concept to consider especially when there are so many internal and external factors that contribute to it.
    PS – I’ve added your blog to my blogroll.

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