The Candle Problem

Posted: October 20, 2009 in leadership, priorities

This is some of the most thought-provoking work on motivation I’ve heard. If Dan Pink is correct, it should change everything in the place you work.

Here some thoughts/insights/ questions brought to my mind by Pink.

1. People have to be invested in the organizational mission/goals for this to work. Oftentimes employees can go through difficult times and/ or malaise, what would pink suggest then? I suspect he has a good answer.

2. He mentioned taking money off the table. What should companies do when they can’t afford the best people and the people they have are not the intrinsically motivated kind? And how, in the interview/on-boarding process can you best eliminate those candidates?

What say you?

  1. Kraig says:


    That is a great video. I don’t find it surprising, and think the presenter mischaracterizes the studies by claiming that they indicate that “incentives don’t improve productivity in tasks involving creativity.” That sentence is only true if “incentives” is taken to mean “financial incentives.” Allowing people greater control, influence, and self-direction at a company is an incentive, and a powerful one. I’m not at all surprised that it is the kind of incentive needed for creative tasks.

    It’ s the same in the classroom. You want students to learn? Don’t just threaten them with bad grades; make learning a precondition for some from of social incentive. Give young students special shirts to wear, allow them to ring a bell when they successfully perform some learning task (that sounds silly, but it works). Older students should be responsible for teaching some content and should be responsible for helping with the education of younger students.

    I don’t think any of these things rule out the usefulness of financial incentives, though. I noticed that none of the social experiments to which he referred tested for the presence of BOTH financial and social incentives. What would have happened if a candle group had been told that their time would set the mark for future testers, AND that they would be financially rewarded if the beat some mark? I don’t know. The added pressure of the financial incentive might have still hampered them in that kind of context.

  2. Dustin says:

    Loved his perspectives…are you pushing for ROWE @ Redwood? Ha!

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