Daniel Pink May Not Like This – But Let’s Hope it Works (Government Prizes for Innovation)

In Daniel Pink’s excellent book, DRiVE:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he argues – well, here’s his own Twitter summary of the book:

Twitter summary (in Pink’s own words, from the end of the book):   “Carrots & sticks are so last century.  Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, & purpose.”

Pink argues passionately for the supremacy of intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation.  He wrote: For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation – the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity.

But…  our country is in the midst of a dry spell in the innovation department.  And, one piece of recent legislation provides for government prizes for innovation.  Here’s an excerpt from the Slate.com article by Annie Lowrey,  Prizewinning Policy: Can Washington get America’s economy moving again with cash rewards?:

There’s good reason for the government to get in on it: Prizes work, and they have a surprisingly long pedigree. Most famously, in 1714, the British government offered £20,000 to anyone who could devise a reliable way of measuring longitude at sea, a problem neither Newton nor Galileo could solve. (Clockmaker John Harrison won in 1773.) Napoleon offered a prize for innovations in food preservation for his army, leading to the development of modern canning. And the $25,000 Orteig Prize spurred Charles Lindbergh to make his trans-Atlantic flight.

The evidence backing the prize boom is not entirely anecdotal, either. There is not a huge body of academic research into prizes, but what there is supports them. One oft-cited study examines the prizes offered by the Royal Agricultural Society of England between 1839 and 1939. “We find large effects of the prizes on contest entries,” the researchers wrote in 2008, confirming that prizes do indeed spur innovation, as opposed to just rewarding pre-existing advances. “[W]e also detect large effects of the prizes on the quality of contemporaneous inventions.”

Here is what I think.  Intrinsic motivation is great – I’m a big fan of Daniel Pink’s argument.  But, for any breakthroughs that actually make life better, and help us build a better economy, I think we ought to use all the arrows from any quiver available.

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You can purchase my synopsis of Drive, with audio + hadnout, at our companion website, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

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