Are You Motivated By Money Or Something Else?

What motivates you? You’ll need to know when building your career what it is that drives you. Are you motivated by money or something else? What gives you direction? If you said ‘money’, think again.

People often work on the basis that money is the king of all motivators. The higher you are paid, the better you’ll perform. This is what one might call the carrot and stick approach to motivation. It’s is a standard motivation system within most business organizations – it’s why the top workers get paid the most.

But it turns out money is not an effective motivator. At least not for everyone. A study by Economists at M.I.T. suggests that money only motivates us to complete straightforward tasks. When it comes to creative or conceptual work, we need other incentives.

The research showed that for mundane tasks, a higher monetary reward incentivised a better performance. However, if the task required any level of cognitive or creative thought, a higher monetary reward actually generated a worse performance. Money is not a good incentive when it comes to complex tasks.

So, if you want to do work that’s challenging, innovative or intellectual, you need to take the thought of money out of the equation. Look for a job that pays well enough that you never feel underpaid, but don’t be exclusively motivated by money! You’ll perform best when you’re motivated by other factors. It makes sense, right? The less you’re thinking about money, the more you’ll focus on your work.

So, what motivates us if not money? Well, Dan Pink suggests three factors lead to better performance, and a higher sense of personal satisfaction – autonomy, mastery and purpose.



Autonomy is the desire to be in control. We want to be in the driving seat. But not only that, we want to choose where we’re going. Seek out roles that give you autonomy.

Traditional structures of management often work against autonomy, instead prioritizing compliance or efficiency. But this won’t lead to engagement. In a workplace where people are doing complex or sophisticated tasks, you need them to engage. If you’re a manager, consider giving your staff more autonomy. Self-direction is proven to render better results.

This is the ethos of Google. Once a week, they give their developers a whole day to work on whatever they want, however they want, with whoever they want, as long as they present their results to the company. This single day of total autonomy has led to new product ideas, software improvements and new developments. If you want someone to be innovative, don’t offer them more money, get out of their way and give them control over their work.



Mastery is the innate human desire to get better at things. It’s why we learn instruments, practice sports, or spend hours playing games on our phones. For most of us, the things we love the most we do for free. They never lead to money, but we’re driven to improve by our desire for mastery.

In recent years, many world changing companies, such as Wikipedia, Linux or Apache, were created for free, built by people who already have jobs doing highly skilled and technically complicated work, but spend their spare time creating something new. Why? They liked the challenge. They wanted to make a contribution. They’re driven towards improvement.



Everyone needs purpose. In many ways, it’s the ultimate motivator. It makes going to work more rewarding, and life more fulfilling.

Everyone needs money. And it’s not a bad thing to want money. To some extent, we’re all driven by profit. But don’t let the profit motive become detached from the purpose motive. When this happens, you’ll end up doing work that’s uninspiring, in environments that aren’t rewarding, and you’ll perform less effectively.

The carrot and stick method has its place, but remember who else is motivated by the carrot and stick? Donkeys. Think about what it is you want. If you’re interested in work that’s creative and conceptual, look for something that offers autonomy, mastery and purpose.



Photo courtesy of Stocksnap
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