(this is part of on ongoing series on the book Drive, the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us)

The next element of “Drive” is mastery. It is based on the premise that people hold one of two types of intelligence: one that you have a finite supply and the other that you can increase your intelligence. The second viewpoint, usually held by people who are motivated intrinsically, leads us naturally towards a push to mastery. People who believe they can improve their intelligence have a more positive attitude about setbacks and failures because they feel they are learning through the whole process. They also realize that mastery takes work and that you never really reach it, you can only get closer and closer.

Mastery is based on this mindset, but in action, it is all about working on tasks that get you into “flow”. Tasks need to be hard enough to challenge you, but not so hard that they frustrate you. Pink calls these “goldilocks” tasks”. These goldilocks tasks bring great satisfaction at work. Not only do these goldilocks tasks increase people’s enjoyment of work by turning it into play, removing basic flow type tasks that people (sometimes secretly) enjoy on a daily basis like washing dishes and working out has immediately negative psychological effects.

So now I have a big confession. It’s been a little secret for many years and I know some of you have suspected it to be true. I absolutely love creating really complex PowerPoint slides. I can get completely lost in them for hours. I feel like an author and an artist and a thinktank all wrapped up into one. I remember when we were writing our Thought Ensemble methodology a couple months after we started and I was totally, completely in the zone (with the help of a little caffeine!) for several days. There was no stopping me. And it was … FUN! I’m getting to the point that going through a presentation and cleaning up the format has totally lost its lure … and I still have my days when I stare at a blank slide overwhelmed about where to begin. But usually, PowerPoint is my flow. And now I understand why I like it!

So how does this apply to technology organizations and consultancies? The obvious answer is that if you can get people into flow, finding goldilocks activities for them, they’ll be more motivated, productive, and fulfilled. And yet this is rarely a conversation at any type of company. We usually do a better job (because of the necessity) of moving people out of roles or getting them the help they need when they struggle with the tasks at hand. On the flip side though, we’ve all seen people who are left far too long in a role where they’ve surpassed their interest in the tasks at hand and have stopped learning much of anything new. We don’t take it seriously enough. The big fallacy is that they get better and better at their job as they approach mastery. Actually, their performance may be declining!

I think the answer here is simple. Every manager and every leader in an organization should be considering who is working in flow and how to get people into flow who are not. No, it will never be 100% of the time, but if we are conscious of it, we can make decisions to get people’s flow allocation up significantly and that could make a huge difference in organizational productivity and attitude…