Payoff — Summary

Learn how to motivate yourself and others from this “little brother” of the book Drive.

What exactly is motivation and are there different types of motivation? We learned the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the book Drive. In this book, you will learn more about what makes us motivated, spoiler alert * it is not necessarily a generous paycheck *.


Ask yourself this question: Why am I at my present job, is it just because of the money? If the answer is yes, then you are probably not feeling very fulfilled, and perhaps should consider changing your line of work. Motivation is something far more complex than just money. There are different factors which drive motivation but on the top of the list is meaning.

Meaning is what makes people work 18 hours per day without complaining. People even engage in painful and difficult tasks when they have a strong purpose, like volunteer firefighters, for instance, they are disposed to risk their lives, and it’s not for the money. Meaning for most people means contributing for a bigger cause.

In one of Ariely’s experiments, his team asked college students to find sets of repeated letters on a sheet of paper. The students were divided into three groups. The first group’s work was reviewed by a “supervisor,” the second group’s work would be collected but not reviewed, and the third group’s work would be shredded immediately upon completion. The students were paid 55 cents per sheet and five cents less for each sheet after that. The students whose work was reviewed and acknowledged by the supervisor was willing to work for less pay much longer than those whose work was ignored or shredded.

In the second experiment, participants had to assemble Lego Bionicles. The first group’s Bionicle’s was lined up on their desk, making the experiment somewhat meaningful for them. The second group’s work was simply disassembled after completion and given back to them later for the next round, making their work devoid of meaning. Individuals received $2 initially, and the amount decreased 11 cents for each subsequently assembled figure.

The result was that students who were allowed to collect their work assembled on average 10.2 figures while those who’s work was disassembled built on average 7.2. These experiments confirmed what many of us know, that meaningful work is rewarding in itself.

Ownership and effort define how much we value something

In one experiment two groups of people were asked to fold origami figures with paper. One group received detailed instructions about the whole process while the other group only got minimal and confusing instructions. The participants of the group with bad instructions afterward, students who had received limited instructions were disposed to pay much more for their work than those who got clear instructions. This suggests that we value things more when we put more effort into them.

Ownership also plays a huge role, participants who had created the figures were prepared to pay $30 or $40 per figure while other people were willing to pay only $15.

Intrinsic motivation is more sustainable

What is a better motivator, monetary gain or something internal like passion or happiness? In an experiment in 2013, the author offered extra money to employees responsible for assembling chips at Intel. They were promised to receive more money if they hit a certain quota.

The incentive worked but just for a day, the next day the productivity dropped back to normal because there was no more any extra money for the employees.

When employees were told that they’d receive a rewarding letter if they exceeded a certain number of units on a day, however, they not only produced more chips than usual but also were noticeably more productive than the group who had received money incentives in the subsequent days.

The “well done” letter produced made the employees feel good. They received internal motivation because they now felt a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Whether you want to motivate yourself so that you can achieve success in your life, or you want to motivate your employees, you should concentrate on internal motivation rather than focus only on external motivators. Research shows that once we make enough money to suit or basic survival needs, money isn’t always the best motivator. And money is particularly not a good motivator for work which demands higher cognitive functions.

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Also published on Medium.