How Can You Motivate Your Team? Use Autonomy Mastery Purpose.
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Autonomy Mastery Purpose: How to Use Author Daniel Pink’s Framework to Successfully Motivate Your Team

Jacob Thomas Jacob Thomas Last Updated:
Illustration of office workers working

One of the traits that every successful leader possesses is the ability to motivate their team. In years past, this was considered a fairly simple thing to do. Just offer employees an enticing reward for better, more productive results. 

This method seemed to be working for a time. But researchers have increasingly discovered that this is not how motivation works. 

In this blog post, we’ll explain who Mr. Pink is and why you should trust his insights. We’ll then explain his autonomy mastery purpose framework, the science behind why it works, and how you can begin implementing it at your own place of business. Let’s get started!

Daniel Pink is the author of six provocative books, four of which have been on the New York Time’s best seller list. These titles include “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others,” “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” and, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” In this article, we’ll be exploring the autonomy mastery purpose framework laid out in “Drive”.

2 Outdated Beliefs Regarding Motivation

To really understand Mr. Pink’s autonomy mastery purpose framework, we have to begin by addressing two outdated beliefs regarding motivation. Many businesses operate using a “carrot and stick” method of motivation. That’s because most people live their entire lives believing the following two things regarding rewards and punishments:

1. Rewards

First, that if we are rewarded for certain behaviors, we’ll be more motivated to continue behaving that way in the future. This is the “carrot” portion of the analogy and it’s something that each of us has experienced since childhood, right? Listen to mom and dad and get an allowance or a candy treat or some other reward for good behavior.

2. Punishments

And the second outdated belief: if we are punished for behaviors that are deemed wrong or unhelpful, we’ll be less inclined to behave the same way moving forward. In other words, the “stick”. Disobey mom and dad and be sent to our room for a timeout.

While the carrot/stick mentality may work well for childrearing, it has major drawbacks when used in the workplace. Yet many businesses still use it. Studies have shown that greater monetary incentives do not always improve performance. In fact, in most scenarios, bigger financial rewards actually lead to less productive results.

This flies in the face of just about everything most of us have ever believed about motivation. How is this possible? In the words of Daniel Pink, it’s because “There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

Science knows that for straightforward tasks, the kinds that require mechanical skill sets such as assembling widgets in a factory, a reward based system works well. This is because these tasks are generally simple and their objectives are clear. The incentives we receive for completing them help to narrow our focus and concentrate our minds, thus increasing productivity.

But unfortunately, many of today’s workplaces need less mechanical skill sets and more cognitive ones. The work that most professionals are asked to complete in the 21st century involves creative, conceptual thinking. Rewards often kill this creativity because we become so focused on the objective we can’t think “outside the box”.

The modern worker needs to be motivated in a different way. They need the autonomy mastery purpose framework.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivations

In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and why, in the 21st century, intrinsic motivations are much more potent. Let’s explore the difference between these two motivating forces.

Intrinsic Motivations

Intrinsic motivations, what Pink refers to as “Type I” behavior, are motivations that originate from within a person rather than through external forces.

For example, a woman who donates her time to serve dinner to homeless folks at the local soup kitchen is likely motivated by intrinsic desires. She wants to help her fellow man, not because of any potential monetary reward, but because she feels that its the right thing to do and it brings her joy.

Extrinsic Motivations

Extrinsic motivations, on the other hand, are motivations that come from forces outside of the person experiencing them. Pink labels these drives as “Type X” behavior. It’s a typical carrot and stick scenario, which we outlined above.

For instance, the employee that works extra hard in the hope of securing his end of year bonus is exhibiting extrinsic motivations and “Type X” behavior.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with extrinsic motivations. They’ve just been proven to be less effective in the modern workplace. This is because many professionals in this day and age are asked to complete cognitive work. To do these kinds of tasks adequately, the worker needs to enjoy the activity and feel that it’s important. That it serves some higher purpose.

This is where the autonomy mastery purpose framework really begins to take shape.

Breaking it Down: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

You now understand intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and why most modern workers need to be motivated intrinsically in order to accomplish cognitive duties efficiently. Let’s dive into why this is the case.

In “Drive”, Daniel Pink outlines the three main elements of intrinsic motivation that will allow professionals to work at a high level of productivity: autonomy mastery purpose.


Autonomy, as described by Mr. Pink, is the urge to direct one’s own life. Without the ability to control what, when, and how we work, and who we work with, we’ll never be completely motivated to complete a task.

Autonomy allows workers to be creative. The crew at Atlassian, an Australian software company, is a great example of this principle in action. Years ago they began having “ShipIt” days, where team members were given an entire day and a half to work on whatever company project they wanted. This practice was highly successful and led to many innovations for the organization.

How You Can Apply This Principle

Let’s get practical. How can your company give its employees more autonomy? You could do exactly what Atlassian did and set aside certain times of the week, month, or year that your team members can spend working on whatever project they wish.

Other (more drastic) ideas include removing schedules from your workplace. Let your team do their work when they want, as long as they still get their projects done well and on time. Or you could endorse a remote work program. Allow your team to work where they want— at least a day or two a week.

These are just a few ideas. Take some time and brainstorm how you can give your employees more control over the time they spend working. The more autonomy you can give your team (within reason of course), the more productive and satisfied they will be.


Mastery is another important element to intrinsic motivation and is described as the desire to get better at something that matters. Most of us have the desire to get better at the things that we do. That’s part of the reason why learning new skills can be so frustrating at first. Because we aren’t good at them yet.

How does this apply to the workplace?

Management needs to match each of its employees with the right tasks. If you’re constantly asking your team members to complete projects that they aren’t skilled at, they’ll feel overwhelmed and their motivation will drop. If you give them tasks that are too easy, they’ll get bored. You need to find what Pink calls Goldilocks tasks: tasks that aren’t too difficult or too easy, but just right.

This doesn’t mean that you only assign tasks that fit each team members capabilities exactly. But it does mean that you should put your employees in the best possible position to succeed and give them the tools to grow and improve.

How You Can Apply This Principle

As we just mentioned, assigning the right tasks to the right employees is a great first step towards applying the mastery principle to your place of work. Another idea is to offer ongoing training opportunities for your staff. Allow them to go through courses or attend seminars to improve their skill sets.


Finally, we have “purpose”, which Daniel Pink defines as the yearning to do work in the service of something larger than one’s self. Workers want more from their jobs than just a paycheck. They can get that anywhere. They want to work towards something that matters.

This is the highest form of motivation. When your employees believe in what your company is building, they will be more productive, work harder, complain less, and be fully engaged.

How You Can Apply This Principle

Make sure that each member of your team understands the vision. That they can see the big picture. If they don’t know the answers to what your company is really working towards and why it matters, they won’t be as motivated as they could be.

This starts during the hiring phase. Only bring on people whose values and drive aligns with your company’s goals. A software company that builds tools to help nonprofits operate more efficiently because they care about these organizations probably shouldn’t hire a self-centered finance guru who has a history of saving companies money via less than honorable means. Even if he is the best in the business.

Bring the Autonomy Mastery Purpose Framework to Your Workplace

The topic of what motivates people is fascinating! Once you’re able to crack the code and inspire your team to work more productively and efficiently, you’ll start to see amazing results. Your team will be more engaged and happy in their work. And your company will likely become more profitable.

Fortunately, author Daniel Pink has given us the secret to motivation. It’s his autonomy mastery purpose framework, which is effective because it allows for intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.

So brainstorm ways that you can give your employee more autonomy and control over the time they spend working for you. Put them in the best possible positions to succeed and master their crafts. And share your company’s vision with them so that they understand the overarching objectives that they’re working towards. Good luck!

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