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Organizational Motivators: Autonomy, Connection, and Excellence

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I think I saw Daniel Pink's TED Talk on " The Puzzle of Motivation" for the first time in 2011. I'd been reading some about leadership, management, and organizational psychology up to that point, but Pink's talk and his distillation of these complex concepts into a simple framework (Autonomy, Connection, and Excellence) inspired me to read more on the topics. Over the course of the next couple of years, I consumed a decent amount of material. You can view my Goodreads account to see what books I was reading. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to share all of the scientific articles and other sources I also consumed.

During the time period when I was reading this material, Daniel Pink's " Drive" seemed to become all the rage. People were talking about it at work, people were submitting conference talks about it, and it even seemed to be in the news. As a result, there was plenty of opportunity to speak with others about the ideas and concepts that I was reading about.

I had not read "Drive". It was originally because I'd already purchased other related material, but eventually, I was intentionally avoiding it. I soon noticed a divergence in what I was learning and what people were saying. What people were talking about was the motivations of an individual; what inspired great work from a single individual. What I was interested in was not only individual motivation, but the collective. How did these ideas apply to organizations? Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose felt to me like it was close, but missing the mark when it came to groups or organizations.

A new role

In January of 2014, I was provided a unique opportunity with Groupon to take on a role focused on our culture within Product Engineering. Up until that point, I'd been building relationships within the department and the broader company, working to affect positive change where possible, and primarily helping teams get better at learning and growing in the service of delivering software. It was time to put pen to paper and articulate the things I'd learned over the years in a concise and actionable manner that could serve as a guideline for my new team.

A simple framework


As pertains to the individual, autonomy is about having a voice in the decisions that impact one’s life and the freedom to choose a different course. As pertains to the collective, autonomy is the right to self-organize and self-govern. In a corporate environment autonomy means leaving the decisions about how work is done to those who actually do the work.


Connection is internal and external. Connection is what makes a community. Internally, organizations need cohesion within and between all teams; one collective, united toward a common cause. External connection is engagement with a community through sincere dialogue and contribution, where bolstering your brand is a side effect, not a primary objective.


Excellence is about both personal mastery and the quality of the product we produce. To achieve excellence, teams and individuals must be adequately challenged and be able to see true progress toward a goal they aspire to.

Finally Reading Drive

In February of 2014, I finally read "Drive". Three years into my new area of study, I read the book that essentially inspired it. As it turned out, I'd read almost all of the studies he references. And I'd read a number more that he didn't mention. I agree with Pink's conclusions and I appreciate his ability to articulate them in a way that resonates with so many. Fundamentally, Pink's book is about individual motivators in a knowledge work economy. This is certainly interesting to me, but I am more interested in how people operate optimally as a collective in a complex knowledge work economy.

Autonomy, Connection, and Excellence is obviously similar to Pink's Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Like I said, I agree with him. One could argue (and many have) that this is identical to Pink's framework and I've just substituted in synonyms. But I think the distinction is in the aspect of the collective. Not just what motivates us as individuals, but what motivates us as a group.

I'll post more on this in the future. But I wrote the original paper over a 18 moths ago and decided it was time to get something out there more publicly.

What are your thoughts?

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leadership,culture,agile,team collaboration

Published at DZone with permission of Michael Norton, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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