Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

Want to learn to be more creative? Check out this talk.

Daniel Pink, a social scientist, makes a case that the traditional idea of human motivation as being based on extrinsic rewards is not only ineffective, but actually harmful to creativity. The “carrot and stick” method, as he puts it, serves to narrow a persons focus to the specific task at hand. This can be good – if the task has a clearly specified set of rules and a clear outcome. But people are much more creative when motivated “intrinsically”, from an internal desire to complete a task because of interest or desire.

While the speaker specifically talks about this idea of intrinsic motivation in terms of business, citing such companies as Google for making strides forward, I was struck by how strongly his ideas relate to the arts.

In the arts, even MORE so than in business, it is important for people to be able to think creatively and autonomously. There are almost never clear rules, and certainly never a clear outcome. This is the nature of the theatrical process. When I think about directing and acting, I realize (in hindsight) how true Daniel’s ideas are. The time I have felt most stifled, most narrow and uncreative, were when I had some idea of where I wanted to be in the end. As Alexander technique teaches, I was “endgaining”.

Daniel’s ideas, I feel, are also important to keep in mind when it comes to school. The nature of school is that one shows up for classes, fulfills a set of requirements, and then receives either a reward or a punishment for the quality of one’s performance. I took this structure for granted until college, mainly because I never studied art in school before college. Here at BU, however, I realize how much this academic “carrot and stick” structure has the potential of murdering my creativity. Just being here is not enough – I need to be constantly aware of how I am learning, how I am applying myself, or I will be turning my wheels in the mud. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Keep them in mind.


kmjiang posted on October 10, 2011 at 10:08 pm


I will, as I go back to studying for this week’s three midterms. >.> Why did I go back to “real school,” again? There’s so much…reading… 😐

But seriously, thanks for this post.

kmjiang posted on October 10, 2011 at 10:09 pm

…Wow, I wish…that hadn’t done that to my smilies. They’re kind of scary now…

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