What Drives Us? Understanding Motivation

Daniel Pink is a best-selling author and has written five books about business, work, and management. Pink worked in several positions in politics and economic policy. He was chief speechwriter for US Vice President Al Gore. In 1997, he quit his job to be on his own and he has written five books since.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us Daniel Pink discusses motivation in-depth. He mentions that incentives & punishments do not work in most cases, except when work is a low-level, mostly mechanical work. As I had written in the article about Barry Schwartz’s book Why We Work earlier on My Zen Path,  Pink also elaborates why Carrots & Sticks (often) don’t work.  He distinguishes people as Type X and Type I based on their motivation: extrinsic or intrinsic. He mentions that Type I people with intrinsic motivation (third drive) for work are more fuelled by internal rewards that are more congruent with their internal value system and desires, inherent satisfaction of the activity/work, rather than secondary rewards such designation, social status or money.

Pink explains that if-then rewards for intellectual work can often cause more harm than good. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, and crowd out good behaviour. Moreover, as an undesirable effect they can encourage unethical behaviour, create addictions, and foster short-term thinking. This is exactly what Schwartz explained in How Good Work Goes Bad. It is interesting to note that various studies have scientifically shown that such incentives don’t work the way organizations/employers expect them to, yet most businesses today continue to use them.

Daniel Pink proposes three crucial elements in the new approach of motivation that he calls Motivation 3.0, in order to nurture Type I behaviour in the organization. These crucial elements are:

  1. Autonomy – The desire to direct our own lives. People need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with) an technique (how they do it).
  2. Mastery – The urge to get better and better at something that matters. Pink explains that mastery begin with flow and people love becoming better at their task with increasing challenges that match their skills that are infinitely improvable. I especially loved how he beautifully quotes that mastery is an asymptote: it’s impossible to fully realize, which makes it simultaneously frustrating & alluring.
  3. Purpose – The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. This makes a large difference in the performance and as Schwartz has asserted, sense of higher purpose is close to indispensable when it comes to being happy about the work we do.

The video included below beautifully illustrates the central ideas of this book – Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and it gets you more curious about the book itself. You can also watch Daniel Pink’s longer talk (~ 42 mins) on YouTube that delves deeper in the ideas of this book.

One practical and helpful part of the book is the Type I toolkit that Pink offers in this book. In this section, he offers strategies and practical tips for individuals as well as organizations that can help them to foster Type I behaviour. This is an excellent inclusion in this book: it can help interested people to take the ideas from this book and put them into action.

I see a lot of similarities between Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and Barry Schwartz’s book Why We Work. Both these books talk about motivations beyond external rewards, building work culture that encourages autonomy, mastery and sense of purpose. Both these books explain why in some cases incentives might cause more harm than good. For anyone interested in Organizational Development (OD) or Talent Management , both these book would serve as useful references. While Schwartz’s book “Why We Work” offers more of theory and cognitive understanding of the ideas about work motivation and work  culture,  Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” goes a step further and offers more practical, useful tips and strategies to implement the ideas for individuals as well as organizations.

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is genuinely curious about Work Motivation, Organizational Behaviour (OB),  and Organizational Development (OD). Even individuals keen on their own journey of self-exploration and seeking self-actualization would find it useful. In other words, all readers & fellow travellers of My Zen Path who want to find and follow their own path should find this book quite insightful.

You can purchase this book on Amazon by clicking on the link below.

The featured image used for this article is a snapshot from the video shared here.