Da TED 2009:
…Pink shows a slide title “The candle problem,” a psychological experiment created by Karl Duncker in 1935. A person is brought into a room and given a candle, a box of thumbtacks and matches and asked to attach the candle to the wall so that the wax doesn’t drip on to the table. The person who can solve the candle problem is one who, rather than seeing the box as receptacle for the tacks, sees it as something that can be used in the solution. The box is tacked to the wall and the candle placed on it.
This experiment is used to learn about incentives, Pink explains. Two groups of people are offered the problem — the first group is simply timed and the second group is offered rewards. It takes the second group three and and a half minutes longer than the first group, on average, to solve the problem. “That’s not how its suposed to wrk! I’m an American. Incentives work!” Pink exclaims. But, he says, this experiment has shown that incentives actually dull thinking and block creativity and he notes that this is not an aberration. It’s been shown over and over again. It’s one of the most robust findings in social science and also one of the most ignored. There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.
Another experiment was done with the problem presented in a slightly different way. Th tacks were taken out of the box, and then the incentivzed group did much better than the other. Pink says this is because it’s an easy problem. For these types of tasks of narrow focus, where you can see the goal right there, rewards work really well.
However, he points out that around the world, white collar workers are doing less of this second type of work and more of the first. Narrow tasks have become fairly easy to outsource and to automate and right-brain conceptual tasks have become more important….
He draws on the a study by Dan Ariely and his colleagues. Ariely et al found that once the given task in one of these experiments was only a mechanical skill, rewards would mean better performance, but if any rudimentary cognitive skill was needed, a larger reward would mean a worse performance. …
So, Pink says, to get out of the messes of the 20th century, we don’t need to do more of the wrong things. We need a new approach, one that includes three basic elements: Autonomy, mastery and purpose. These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system. Today, he says he’s going to talk about autonomy. The traditional notions of management are great if you only want compliance, he explains. But for creative thinking, we have to approach things differently.
Science knows that motivators only work to solve narrow problems, Pink declares, but they destroy creativity. Maybe, he says, if we can increase productivity in solving the candle problems everywhere, we can change the world.