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January 19, 2021

Algorithmic Tasks Vs. Heuristic Tasks

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Trust me when I say that you are a leader. It could be at work, at home, or in a way that you aren’t even aware of. I say this because if that’s the case, then we all need to understand how to motivate others. I’m reading a book called “Drive” by Daniel Pink, and he presented an interesting thought that I want you to know about as the leader that you are.

There are two types of tasks in life. There are algorithmic tasks, where you follow a set process to achieve a certain result, and there are heuristic tasks, where you need to use your own creativity and problem solving to reach a desired outcome. Although they are often treated the same way by employers and leaders these two different types of tasks respond best to different reward models.

When following the routine work of algorithmic tasks, it is often effective to use conventional, extrinsic rewards like a pay raise, an incentive, or a certificate. For more creative heuristic tasks the same rewards actually decrease  performance. That’s because these tasks require a sense of autonomy and agency, and introducing external rewards actually compromises one’s interest in doing it for more self-motivating reasons. People doing heuristic tasks respond better to more intrinsic rewards, like the pursuit of self-mastery and progress, and minimal intervention by others.

So when you’re trying to motivate someone, it’s important to match the type of task with the type of reward. Algorithmic, routine tasks can be improved by adding new incentives and extrinsic reward. Creative heuristic tasks are better supported by intrinsic rewards.

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