Book of the Month: Drive

Drive by Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is one of those books that has us wondering when current management techniques are going to wake up to modern reality. According to Pink (and years of scientific research) autonomy, mastery and purpose, not external rewards, is what motivates.

After receiving a book recommendation from a former colleague, I picked up a copy of the 2011 paperback version and couldn’t put it down. As one who has had the responsibility of motivating employees, students, and my own kids, Pink made it clear that some type of work just can’t be effectively managed with the old carrots and sticks approach. What seemed so straight forward for years – that rewards like money or good grades and punishment like fines or shame would shape behavior in the desired direction – is just dead wrong.

Check out pages 50-51 where day-care parents actually increased their tardy behavior when issued a punitive fine for late arrival, or page 45 where women in Gothenburg, Sweden “donated” less blood when they were paid to do so. Pink claims that a few mundane tasks may still benefit from such incentives but for creative ones, incentives can have a limiting effect.

So, while money and shame don’t actually motive like we thought they would, apparently autonomy, mastery and purpose do. Autonomy, even if it is perceived control, Pink says, is an important component of one’s happiness. Mastery is a mindset. It’s one that chooses the tough, sometimes impossible challenge (like becoming a perfect golfer) yet sticks with it day after day. I saw this in students who, with simple grit and determination just kept trying until they eventually surpassed their “gifted” peers academically.

Finally, purpose as a motivator seems intuitive, yet I would suggest that Pink does a good job of pointing to the “intrinsic aspirations” component of this factor – that is, feeling better by helping others improve their lives. Pink shares that “people who’d had purpose goals and felt they were attaining them reported higher levels of satisfaction and subjective well-being.”

For anyone who works with children, manages adults, or just wants to retire that old carrot and stick, Pink’s Drive is a must-read!