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Posted by on Jun 3, 2010 in Business, TG Roundup, Videos

What Motivates Us? [Must Watch]

I teach Engineering Economics, which is essentially an introductory subject on infrastructure finance.  One of the questions I routinely asked in this class was, “if you have unlimited amount of money and don’t have to worry about money, what would you do?”

The single most popular answer was: “I will travel”

Second most popular answer: “I will do charity work.”

I was once surprised by a student rebuttal to the second most popular answer, “You don’t need to have a lot of money to do charity work.” I told the class with a genuine acceptance of this notion, “How true!”

It is widely believed by many that self interest, which is mostly profit or $$ driven, motivates us. After all, that’s what Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand told us. That would mean better the incentive, better the performance! Right?

Well, there is not evidence for that being the truth. In fact, RSA’s “Super Freakeconomics” study has proved that good-natured people do resort to cheating/stealing when conditions change. In this video, RSA proves that incentives do not correlate well with performance.

But the biggest surprise of this experiment is what motivates us. Surprise, surprise! It is not profit. [Hint: What motivates us? It is the same thing that motivates me to keep working hard for TORI, despite the fact that it is a money losing entity.]

Autonomy, Mastery and Engagement: These are the three things that motivate us.


  1. Very good one !

  2. Amazing academic trickery. No wonder American universities are pumping out socialist Obama’s out of their university system like there is no tomorrow.

    First of all self-interest is not about making $. It is one of the important components. People pursuse different professions in life out of their self-interest. Some pursue music, others puruse theater and some go into teaching and others into medicine. Some of these professions pay more and some less. It is not a simple logic of $.

    Secondly, the academician in the video does a very good job at identifying what motivates people to work, but then he makes a claim that more you pay less productive people become particularly in “thinking jobs”.

    Let’s do this. Let’s divide a group of software companies into two buckets. In the first group of companies all the employees from CEO to Programmer earn the same money and in the other employees earn in a traditional manner. Let us come back in 5 years and see how they perform. The first ones to quit the companies in the first bucket will be Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Ellison. Then without the talent the companies will go bankrupt.

    This is the kind of ludicrous intellectual mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t even meet simple smell-test resulted in the formation of Soviet Union. I can a smell a socialist even if he is a continent away.

    • Aha,

      I know you would say that. I will respond to this at a later date. ’cause I have too many ‘academic’ appointments in the next week or so. 🙂

  3. Good one. Artist and the concept of presentation is amazing