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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Dan Pink (a recovering law student) on the Surprising Science of Motivation (of law students?)

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Dan Pink begins his TED talk with a description of his youthful indisgression, of which he is very ashamed – having gone to law school.

TED Talks: Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.

Dan Pink focuses on the mismatch between what science knows and what business does in motivating people – principally the difference in extrinsic motivators (carrots and sticks) and intrinsic motivators (doing something for its own sake). His premise is that current scientific thought shows that extrinsic motivators, i.e. rewards – work really well for tasks with a simple set of rules and a clear destination by narrowing our focus and concentrating the mind. For more ambiguous tasks, with less obvious solutions, extrinsic motivators are often harmful – the focus of rewards limits our ability to find solutions. Intrinsic motivation delivers superior results for these kinds of problems and requires, according to Pink, three elements:

  • autonomy
  • mastery
  • purpose

Although Pink doesn’t discuss them in detail, the contours of the dichotomy of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are familiar to anyone entering the legal profession. It’s frighteningly easy to become dependent on others for direction in the legal profession – we too easily equate our law school’s reputation with the value of our education, our class rank with our career opportunities, our affiliations with journals or law firms with accomplishment – the kind of mastery that has real value in the legal profession is obscured by a focus on resume adornment. How could anyone possibly hope to avoid disillusionment in such an environment?

So it’s worth asking ourselves, on a more or less regular basis – what’s motivating us? Why did we choose the legal profession? What is it we hope to accomplish? Where is it we will find the intrinsic motivation in which to ground our careers for the long haul?

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