Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Here at WPLauncher, we like to do everything we can to use scientifically proven best practices in our development projects, in building out our products, and in running our business. We spend a significant amount of time researching prior to the development and implementation of a new technology or a new business principle or strategy. It’s important that we pay our employees well; to ensure that they know that we value their contribution to our team. We also want to create an environment where our employees truly enjoy their work and feel motivated to produce engaging, beautiful, and functional products for our users. What is the best way to motivate people? The video above and the article below provide insights into what actually motivates people. We do our best to take these principles to heart and implement them internally.

What’s the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation describes the simplistic notion that humans act in ways that “seek reward and avoid punishment” (Pink, 2009, p.16). Organizations “[rewarded] the behavior [they] sought and [punished] the behavior [they] discouraged,” and they expected people to “respond rationally to these external forces” (Pink, 2009, p.17). This has been the dominant motivational structure for a very long time as it has been believed to be “the way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad” (Pink, 2009, p.17).

There are 3 issues with the extrinsic motivation system:

  • Extrinsic motivation doesn’t account for the fact that “we’re intrinsically motivated purpose maximizers, not only extrinsically motivated profit maximizers” (Pink, 2009, p. 31).
  • Modern economists are “finally realizing that we’re full-fledged human beings, not single-minded economic robots” (Pink, 2009, p.31).
  • It doesn’t comport with “what we actually do at work—because for growing numbers of people, work is often creative, interesting, and self-directed rather than unrelentingly routine, boring, and other-directed” (Pink, 2009, p.31).

These issues are also supported by the conclusions of several studies. In one study, “four economists— two from MIT, one from Carnegie Mellon, and one from the University of Chicago” found that “in eight of the nine tasks examined across the three experiments, higher incentives led to worse performance” (Pink, 2009, p.39). In addition, researchers at the “London School of Economics–alma mater of eleven Nobel laureates in economics — analyzed 51 studies of corporate pay-for-performance plans” (Pink, 2009, p.39). These scholars found that “financial incentives…can result in a negative impact on overall performance” (Pink, 2009, p.39).

What are the 7 deadly flaws of extrinsic motivation? (Pink, 2009, p.57)

  • They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  • They can diminish performance
  • They can crush creativity
  • They can crowd out good behavior
  • They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  • They can become addictive
  • They can foster short-term thinking

On the other hand, Intrinsic motivation is a more complex and realistic interpretation of human motivation and highlights the more internal processes that govern our decision making processes. “How we organize, think about, and do what we do” is “fueled more by intrinsic desires than extrinsic ones” (Pink, 2009, p.75).

In a study carried out by a Harvard Business School professor, researchers found the results to be “startling” (Pink, 2009, p.43). They found that “the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the non-commissioned works” and the “artists reported feeling significantly more constrained when doing commissioned works than when doing non-commissioned works” (Pink, 2009, p.43). In addition, a study by “MIT’s Pierre Azoulay and his colleagues compared two different ways to incentivize creativity in the sciences” (Pink, 2009, p.44). The results showed that scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Center “whose funding process ‘tolerates early failure, rewards long-term success, and gives its appointees great freedom to experiment'” “produced high-impact papers at a much higher rate than their similarly accomplished NIH counterparts,” “which emphasizes external controls such as ‘short review cycles, pre-defined deliverables, and renewal policies unforgiving of failure'” (Pink, 2009, p.44). Some other ways to encourage intrinsic motivation are described below.

How can an organization encourage intrinsic motivation?

One way to do this is to implement a “ROWE—results only work environment” (Pink, 2009, p.84). “In a ROWE workplace, people don’t have schedules. They show up when they want. They don’t have to be in the office at a certain time—or any time for that matter. They just have to get their work done. How they do it, when they do it, and where they do it is up to them” (Pink, 2009, p.84). When a company called Meddius tried testing out ROWE, it took a little bit for employees to adopt it but once they did, “productivity rose” and the “team was accomplishing more” (Pink, 2009, p.85). “By the end of the test period,” Meddius “decided to go with ROWE permanently” (Pink, 2009, p.85). Best Buy and Gap Outlet have implemented ROWE as well as “Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department in Minnesota and the U.S. federal government’s Office of Personnel Management” (Pink, 2009, p.99).

What are the 3 Elements of Intrinsic Motivation?

Mastery: “the desire to get better and better at something that matters” (Pink, 2009, p.109)

Autonomy: “the innate capacity for self-direction” (Pink, 2009, p.87) or acting with choice (Pink, 2009, p.88)

Purpose: act “in service of some greater objective” or “hitch [your] desires to a cause larger than [yourself]” (Pink, 2009, p.131)

How do you foster mastery?

There are several steps that you can take to encourage mastery in your organization: (Pink, 2009, p.120-121)

  • Welcome and praise effort
  • Learning goals
  • Malleable intelligence – the idea that intelligence can change and develops based on the effort that you put in

There are several steps that you can take to discourage mastery in your organization: (Pink, 2009, p.120-121)

  • Disdain effort
  • Fixed intelligence – the idea that our intelligence is fixed and cannot change
  • Performance goals

Click on the button below to test your understanding of the different strategies and concepts that help others stay motivated by their desire for mastery.


How do you foster autonomy?

Below, there are several concepts and examples pertaining to how you can encourage autonomy in your organization:

  • Self Direction
  • ROWE
  • FedEx Day – giving an employee a day where he/she can “[work] on any problem they [want], even if it wasn’t part of their regular job” (Pink, 2009, p.91)
  • 20% Time – giving an employee “20% of their time…working on any project they wanted” (Pink, 2009, p.92)
  • Homeshoring – “instead of requiring customer service reps to report to a single large call center, they’re routing the calls to the employees’ homes” (Pink, 2009, p.101).
  • 30 Day Trial – when an employee works for a company for a trial period and at the end of the trial, “the prospective teammates vote on whether to hire that person full-time” (Pink, 2009, p.103)

Below, there are several concepts and examples pertaining to how you can discourage autonomy in your organization:

  • Billable Hours – “nearly all lawyers at large, prestigious firms—must keep scruppulous track…of their time. If they fail to bill enough hours, their jobs are in jeopardy” (Pink, 2009, p.97).
  • Management – “still revolves largely around supervision, “if-then” rewards, and other forms of control” (Pink, 2009, p.89)
  • Pay for Performance
  • Flex Time – “flexibility simply widens the fences and occassionally opens the gates. It is little more than control in sheep’s clothing” (Pink, 2009, p.90).
  • Compliance and Control

Click on the button below to test your understanding of the different strategies and concepts that help others stay motivated by their autonomy.


How do you foster purpose?

Below, there are several concepts and examples pertaining to how you can encourage purpose in your organization:

  • Cooperatives (Co-Ops) – “motives other than profit maximization” (Pink, 2009, p.134)
  • For Benefit Organizations – “recast the goals of the traditional business enterprise” (Pink, 2009, p.134)
  • Why – “in business, we tend to obsess over the ‘how’ —as in ‘Here’s how to do it. Yet we rarely discuss the ‘why’—as in ‘Here’s why we’re doing it” (Pink, 2009, p.137)
  • 20% time – “letting doctors spend one day a week on the aspect of their job that was most meaningful to them” (Pink, 2009, p.140). “Doctors who participated in this trial policy had half the burnout rate of those who did not” (Pink, 2009, p.141)
  • Pronoun Test – “do the workers refer to the company as ‘they’? Or do they describe it in terms of ‘we’?” (Pink, 2009, p.137)
  • MBA Oath – “a Hippocratic oath for business grads in which they pledge their fealty to causes above and beyond the bottom line” (Pink, 2009, p.136)
  • Encore Careers – “instead of retiring or continuing to work as they always have, they’re crafting jobs that offer a continued income, but that emphasize meaning, significance, and contributing to the world” (Pink, 2009, p.144)

Below, there are several concepts and examples pertaining to how you can discourage purpose in your organization:

  • Extrinsic Aspirations – a desire to “become wealthy or to achieve fame” (Pink, 2009, p.141)
  • Only Profit Driven
  • How – “in business, we tend to obsess over the ‘how’—as in ‘Here’s how to do it'” (Pink, 2009, p.138)
  • Efficiency, Advantage, Value, Superiority, Focus, Differentiation – “important as these objectives are, they lack the power to rouse human hearts” (Pink, 2009, p.137)
  • Ethics Guidelines – “valuable though those guidelines can be, as a policy they can unintentionally” stifle “purposeful behavior” (Pink, 2009, p.138-139)

Click on the button below to test your understanding of the different strategies and concepts that help others stay motivated by their desire for purpose.



Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.

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