DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

In this latest offering from Daniel H. Pink, the author argues that the secret to high performance and satisfaction is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. The problem that most business have in motivating employees is that the leaders continue to pursue practices that don’t work; they use measures such as short-term bonuses and pay-for-performance incentive schemes that usually don’t work and can actually cause long-term damage.

Pink shows that there has always been monetary motivation, but it has lost its attractiveness as we’ve moved from the “top-down” management system to the more heuristic style (workers being free to decide how to do their jobs). He points out that repetitive jobs lend themselves more to traditional rewards, whereas money doesn’t seem to motivate innovation.  In fact, the old “carrot-and-stick” approach can actually squelch motivation as follows:

  • Extinguish intrinsic motivation
  • Diminish performance
  • Crush creativity
  • Encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  • Foster short-term thinking

Instead, Pink examines the three elements of true motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Autonomy. A sense of autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude.  The employee who is well-trained and then left to do his/her job is much more effective than the one who is micro-managed and working in a control-oriented company.  Control leads to compliance; Autonomy leads to engagement.

Mastery.  We are wired to want to be better at what we do. The mastery of something is its own reward. It may be the most powerful thing driving us.  In Pink’s theory, Mastery is the urge to get better and better at something that matters.

Purpose.  People want to believe that what they are engaged in matters and there should be a good reason they are doing the work they are doing. When people “buy in” to a task, they will be more highly motivated and productive.  This is also true with sports teams – the ones where the players buy in to what the coach is telling them to do will perform at a higher level.

The author shows us companies that are enlisting new approaches to motivation and introduces the reader to the scientists and entrepreneurs who are using new motivational models to transform what we know about what motivates us. It is a very compelling read.