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DRIVE by Daniel H Pink

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

DRIVE was published in 2009 and I was given a copy the following year by the CEO I was working for at the time. I read it and was inspired to think differently about motivation. Since then, I've run many training sessions for managers on the concepts in this book - using it as a fundamental part of our approach to motivation and performance at Defaqto.

In January 2021, I've just re-read it and noticed quite a few things I can apply to myself right now, thinking about what motivates me and what impact that has on the work I do.

Here's what the author himself writes as the Twitter summary of this book: "Carrots and sticks are so last century. For 21st century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose."

Anyone who's studied management at all will no doubt have encountered the classic theories of motivation from Maslow, McGregor, Herzberg, etc. Most of this is focused on rewards and punishments - carrots and sticks. DRIVE is all about intrinsic motivation - where performing a task provides its own reward.

Part One of the book focuses on what's wrong with our carrot and stick approach to motivation and proposes the author's new way of thinking, which he calls Motivation 3.0. There are stories about some interesting experiments, with surprising results, or at least they were surprising at the time.

I liked his retelling of the scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where the chore of painting the fence is turned into something the other boys WANTED to do, just by making it seem a privilege. Personally, I'm not sure about manipulating people like that (unless, perhaps, it's your child and you want them to do chores?!) but there's a clear point to be made about how work can become play. The author then makes the reverse point about how we can inadvertently turn play into work through the way we reward and punish, and that we may get worse performance as a result.

The author doesn't say reward and punishment is always ineffective. In fact, he outlines circumstances when "if-then" rewards (where you promise someone that if they do something then they will get something) can be helpful. There's also a useful discussion about "now-that" rewards (where you unexpectedly give someone something now that they've done something).

In Part Two of the book, the author explains Motivation 3.0. He suggests that, on top of a baseline salary to allow people to feel safe and secure, there are three things we need to provide our staff (and ourselves!) with to be intrinsically motivated:

  • PURPOSE - we tend to work better when we have a clear purpose and meaning to what we do

  • MASTERY - we like to be good at what we do, and to keep on getting better over time

  • AUTONOMY - we like to act with choice, feel that we can determine our own path - but still be interdependent and accountable

In the section on AUTONOMY, he talks about giving people choices and flexibility over what they do, when and how they do it, and who they work with. I've definitely seen this work in practice to create more engagement, and it isn't as scary as it initially may sound to a business owner/manager. Start small and simple and see it grow. Hire good people, provide them with clear direction and get out of their way!

In the section on MASTERY, he talks about having a growth mindset, having grit and finding flow. I'll be reviewing soon the books Mindset (Carol Dweck), Grit (Angela Duckworth) and Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) - because I've always meant to read them, but never got around to it - but here are relevant TedTalks if you want a quick introduction to the concepts: Mindset,, Grit, Flow

One of my favourite ideas from this section for using practically at work is Goldilocks tasks. These are tasks that aren't beyond your capability (which causes anxiety) and aren't too easy for you (which causes boredom), but are "just right". Managers who think about this when allocating work will be supporting their team towards mastery.

In the section on PURPOSE, the author focuses on the recent (in 2009!) move towards more purpose-led businesses, where generating profit is about facilitating progression of the purpose, not a goal in itself. Many businesses start out with clear purpose, they want to make a difference in the world, but then get caught up with the focus on making money as they grow. If it becomes ALL about making money then it can be hard for many employees to feel motivated to advance the business (unless you're sharing out the money generously and employ people who are strongly motivated by that!).

As human beings, purpose is an emotional catalyst to action - it drives us to use our skills and decisions to achieve something we feel is worthwhile. Managers who help their teams understand how what they do matters will get more engaged people and better performance. It takes some strong leadership skills though, and we don't always put people in management roles for their leadership capabilities.

At the end of the book, in Part Three, there are practically-focused sections to help you apply the ideas to different situations: yourself, your company/team, your family and also (a little bizarrely) your fitness. Plus, there are ideas of ways to learn more about the concepts in the book.

I believe in hiring people with the potential to be great, creating the conditions for them to do their best work, trusting them to deliver and holding them accountable. I think that's why I've found this book so helpful over the years, as an easy model for talking to managers about how to motivate their team members and get the best out of them.

Re-reading this book has also inspired me to think about how I can pursue purpose, mastery and autonomy in my work. I can have a tendency towards an over-zealous sense of responsibility and doing what "should" be done. How can I spend more of my time doing activities that are their own reward, both in terms of work and leisure?

To be happy and successful people, we need to feel we are able to make our own choices and use our expertise towards something that matters. DRIVE helps us to explore that.

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