Ryan's Reviews > Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Drive by Daniel H. Pink
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's review
Feb 25, 2012

really liked it

In Drive, Daniel H. Pink suggests that there is a gap between what "science knows and what business does." I was not shocked to learn that this gap exists, and I attributed Pink's decision to emphasize the existence of this gap to what I believe is the author's drive to attract corporate speaking engagements, consultancies, and Op/Ed articles in national newspapers. If he's lucky, he could maybe land a job as a pundit. Ostensibly, Pink's purpose is to share the "surprising truth about what motivates us," and I enjoyed this book whenever I was able to view it as a book about self-determination theory rather than an advertisement for speaking engagements and consultancy.

Pink's report on self-determination theory and how it affects motivation is consistently fascinating. We traditionally acknowledge two drives that inspire action. The first is the biological drive, which is intrinsic. The second drive, which arguably has more to do with the workplace than the first, is material incentives, such as salary and punishment. These are extrinsic motivators. Under this view, work is agony and we need careful structures of incentives and disincentives to control employee laziness.

What Pink reports is that there is evidence of a third drive. It seems that people find satisfaction in completing tasks. In other words, people are intrinsically motivated to work and produce. The key to motivating workers here is to give them: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If one of these is lacking, people may actually not feel motivated to work at all. So if workers seem disengaged, Pink's solution is to stop focusing on carrots and sticks and start inspiring workers to feel like human beings by shaping work to engage the third drive. My favorite example of this was when Pink contrasted two approaches to organizing call centers to illustrate 1) the power of the third drive and 2) that even work that we'd often dismiss as a McJob can benefit from this approach.

Self-determination theory in the workplace gets interesting when we consider the intersection of money and the third drive. For complex tasks, carrots and sticks actually inhibit performance. Though they can help in the short-term, people that tap into the third drive almost always outperform the donkeys in the long term. Pink suggests that the most useful thing an employer can do to improve performance is to take the discussion of money off the table by offering a fair wage. So long as people make enough money that they feel they are being treated fairly, money will not stop them from performing. Next, offer them autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

I found it interesting that Pink often stops to mention that most companies refuse to acknowledge the third drive. When they do acknowledge it, as Best Buy did, they often only allow middle management or higher to experience it. It's almost as though a majority of business leaders refuse to believe that their employees are human beings, as opposed to donkeys. I couldn't help thinking of the novel Fight Club, in which employees quit their jobs because Tyler Durden offers them autonomy, mastery, and purpose through an underground network called "Project Mayhem."

I actually found a great deal of this discussion fascinating. However, there are some disappointing decisions in Drive. Pink is able to clearly and, for the most part, concisely explain self-determination theory in popular format. At times, there is a little too much repetition, particularly the closing chapter that offers three different summaries (Twitter, cocktail party, and chapter by chapter) of the book's message (autonomy, mastery, and purpose).

More annoyingly, Pink continuously refers to the drives as "Motivation 1.0," Motivation 2.0," and "Motivation 3.0," which I found an incredibly hackneyed attempt to sound "with it." Worse, he doesn't seem to realize that "Drive" has a computer science connotation.

Things are referred to as the "Zen" of management, which, yes, sounds trendy. However, if I could set up some guidelines for authors to follow, I'd suggest they actually research what "Zen" means. It is more than an art of motorcycle maintenance and many authors might be surprised to learn that its roots go back further than middle management strategies.

Ultimately, I found self-determination theory extremely interesting, and I suspect that Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us will have me thinking about what I do and how I do it for a long time to come. However, it does require readers to overlook a lot of irritatingly trendy writing that tries to "connect" with the audience through "21st century power words" like "2.0," the "Zen" of compensation, and even a Twitter summary.
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Ryan Elizabeth wrote: "2.0 is still a power word? That's surprising. I get why that would be annoying."

In fairness to Pink, this was written in 2009. However, surely "3.0" is still inspiring. I suppose he would have been better off suggesting that motivation should be turned up to "11.0."

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