Book Review: Drive by Daniel Pink

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, Book Reviews

Drive, The surprising truth about what motivates us.

Daniel Pink has hit this one out of the park, again! Finally, someone has connected the dots on motivation, and why our system doesn’t work. We’ve been starring at those dots for decades. Pink points out that, for all practical purposes, management hasn’t changed in a 100 years. Leaders and managers cannot motivate employees; not really. People motivate themselves, it’s internal. Leaders and managers can only inspire people and provide an environment that allows them the full range of intrinsic motivation wherever possible.

Pink organized this excellent book on motivation into three parts: A New Operating System, The three elements and the Type I toolkit. He also provided an excellent summary of the whole new system model at the end titled “Drive: The Recap” beginning on page 203. I found this summary to be immensely useful and I expect it will be going forward as I refer back to Drive in the future.

I found the reports on experiments with primates by Harry Harlow, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, to be particularly enlightening. Based on the results, Harlow offered a novel theory—what amounted to a third drive: “The performance of the task,” he said, “provided intrinsic reward.” The primates, in this case monkeys, solved the puzzles simply because the found it gratifying to solve puzzles. They enjoyed it. The joy of the task was its own reward.(1) The first drives are the lower stages on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – food, shelter, procreation, etc. The second drive is what we are used to, the extrinsic, carrot and stick kinds of motivation we typically employ in business – bonuses, commissions, etc. The experiments did not provide either of the first two motivations for these monkeys. The simply wanted to solve the puzzle for the joy of it. This vignette sets the tone and foundation for the rest of the book.

The next piece in this motivation puzzle are the experiments conducted and reported by Edward Deci (Carnegie Mellon University). In short, what Deci found was that “When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity.” Rewards can deliver a short-term boost—just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off—and, worse, can reduce a person’s longer term motivation to continue the project.(2)

Pink refers to Motivation 1.0 as that early time in our evolution when we needed to survive. That is the time of living in the Fight, Flight, Food or Procreate stage of development of our species. Motivation 2.0 came in with the advent of the industrial age, time studies and piece work (my summary, not his). But now, we must move to Motivation 3.0 and that is what Drive is all about. Why? Because while Motivation 2.0 (carrot & stick stuff) works some of the time for prescriptive tasks, it isn’t reliable even for those tasks and certainly doesn’t work well for the more creative work we have in front of us now. “The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates that in the United States, only 30 percent of job growth now comes from algorithmic work, while 70 percent comes from heuristic work.”(3) In my opinion, this all lines up with the trend toward what Pink wrote about years ago in Free Agent Nation. America alone has more than 18 million “non-employer businesses” – businesses without any paid employees.

It’s fascinating to me that we have all seen the data that points to the fact that what Pink refers to as Motivation 2.0 simply isn’t reliable and in the more creative, free-thinking projects we believe will “save our country’s economy,” and yet we haven’t made the changes necessary. Personally, I believe a lot has to do with the fact that when we first join the workforce, we often times assume that what we learned in the academic environment is either wrong or out of date. I clearly remember leaving engineering school and thinking that the education I got, while certainly useful, did not prepare me for what was really going on in the “real world.” Similarly, when I finished my MBA course, I thought, wow, this stuff is interesting but it isn’t the way we run things at the company at all. And that included the system we have in place for rewarding “good behavior,” and punishing “bad behavior.” I know for a fact that this system doesn’t work, and I suspect that you feel the same way. Here, as Pink puts it, is the Twitter summary: “Carrots and Sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.”(4)

This book is a must read book for any manager, business owner, business mentor, educator or hired C-Suite executive. It is right on target.

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Drive, Daniel Pink, © 2009, Penguin Group, pages 1-3

Ibid; page 8

Ibid; page 30

Ibid; page 203

Click here to see the book on Amazon.