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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Dan Pink reveals that the secret to high performance and satisfaction in today's world is less about financial reward and more about the deep human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and the world.

There is a big gap between what science knows about motivation and behavior and what businesses do. What's more, science has been on the tail of this knowledge since the 1940s, amassing more evidence. Evidence that proves humans are more complex, more inventive, and require more to motivate them than the simple carrots and sticks offered by many companies.

The world of work is changing rapidly. Where once workforces could be driven with rewards and kept in line with fear of punishment, today's employees buck this system. Jobs are changing from the routine and algorithmic and tilting towards empathetic, creative, and non-routine pursuits. This heuristic, right-brained roles now account for around 70% of job growth. As the author argues, the motivational system behind these changes needs to be updated from past modes to a newer model.

Drive is backed by research, interesting historic business facts, and presented in an engaging, easy to read style. Daniel Pink purports that today's businesses need an overhaul of their management style to remain competitive in the job market and continue to grow and meet society's demands. He argues that the talismanic phrase "In a world of perfect information and low transaction costs, the parties will bargain to a wealth maximizing result" is no longer valid. Rewards are no longer the ultimate goal of employees. Once necessary comfort has been attained, increased remuneration does little to motivate a workforce or increase happiness.

So often, we're hearing of people leaving high-paying jobs for lower-paid roles that provide a clearer sense of purpose.

Intrinsic reward is trumping the extrinsic value of work. Extrinsic motivators are undermining business' goals. That is not to say the future's employees will not require payment for their service and expertise. But it is to say that this is far from the dominant motivator.

The author gently and humorously leads us through human motivation levels. He likens each to a computer program, from what he calls 'Motivation 1.0' – biological urges and a meeting of our physical needs, on to 'Motivation 2.0', the carrot and stick approach to getting things done. We even take detour to 'Motivation 2.1' when workplace dress-codes relaxed, and businesses granted employees a little autonomy over their jobs and assistance towards skills development. Yet none of these are now entirely fit for purpose in today's world of work. People spend a third of their lives at work and want more from their employers. It's time for the latest development in management technology: 'Motivation 3.0'. This model taps into our need for intrinsic motivation and joy in a task. If we build it right, it will boost innovation and drive business into a sustainable future.

Intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic drivers

Intrinsic motivation is driven by a desire to be creative, to reach a state of optimal challenge – flow – or to give a gift of ourselves, or our knowledge to our community. There are many examples around us of organizations – non-profit, for-profit, and low-profit – that have put intrinsically motivated groups to work to build incredible products or provide genuinely valued services for the world to enjoy. Wikipedia, Apache, and Linux are just a few.

Not only are the fruits of intrinsically motivated groups delivering value to societies around the world, but jobs with high levels of intrinsic enjoyment and motivation built-in are also becoming most sought after. Humans are far more than one-dimensional extrinsically motivated profit maximizers. We are also intrinsically motivated purpose maximizers. Businesses who want to grow will do well to note this and adjust their workplaces accordingly.

Intrinsic motivation is a slippery, sometimes contrary force. What the author dubs as the 'Sawyer effect' – the ability to turn work into play or play into work is a perfect example. Giving people autonomy over their work, removing all attachment to reward for their efforts, and let them get on with the doing it can transform work to play. The results are increased creativity, spikes in productivity, and improved enjoyment. Equally, attaching rewards, restricting, or removing autonomy, and enforcing strict guidelines to a task can turn play into work. What was once pleasurable becomes a drudge. Intriguingly it is the reward and the direction that has the most damaging effect over our motivation and view of work as play/play as work.

Carrots and sticks have been shown in multiple studies to have a damaging effect on human performance. They can promote bad behavior (cheating, lying and taking dangerous shortcuts), create addiction, and encourage short-term thinking at the expense of a long-term view. The author explains how rewards for tasks activate the “nucleus accumbens” area of our brains (the part associated with recognizing rewards) with dopamine in a similar way to addictive drugs. The result is poor decision making and increased risk-taking. When taken in the context of say, bonuses for exceeding sales targets, the results might be just as destructive.

Constructing a new system of motivation

The 'if-then' rewards of 'Motivation 2.0' are not entirely defunct. Routine tasks that require little creativity can, and should, be encouraged with extrinsic rewards. To improve their effectiveness rationale for the completion of these tasks, an acknowledgment that the job is tedious and allowing as much autonomy as possible will further enhance the productivity and motivation for the staff tasked with their completion.

However, beyond algorithmic, mundane jobs, rewards should be avoided in favor of a better, far more motivational approach. Self-determination theory (SDT) argues we have three innate needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. By tapping into these needs and going some way (or all the way) to meeting them, we can invigorate our employees, make our workplaces inspirational and inviting, attract talent and grow into the future.

Intrinsically motivated behavior is fed with three nutrients that are directly related to SDT innate needs. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the new drivers of our teams. Encouraging intrinsic behaviors with these psychological 'foods' is critical for professional, personal, and organizational success of any kind, argues Pink. If we are to build a new system of motivation, it should be on the foundation of these human needs.

Fortunately, plenty of examples surround businesses both in our current time and throughout history. Autonomy over our time, our tasks, our workplaces is nothing new. It merely has never taken off in the way that the traditional management style did. Autonomy in the areas of the four T's – time, task, technique, and team can be adapted to almost any workplace. 3M did this back in 1948 under the guidance of William McKnight, who implemented what became known as the 'bootlegging policy.' Employees were instructed to spend up to 15% of their time on projects of their choosing. Thank goodness for his foresight! If it weren’t for this unusual management development, Post-It notes might never have existed.

Whether it's a percentage of time to spend on work tasks that bring joy or autonomy over who we work with, employee engagement soars, and so does businesses' growth. More than 50% of Google's innovations come from their '20 % time'. Call centers are reaching ever higher customer satisfaction levels by allowing employees to work from home, scrapping scripts, and enabling customer reps to manage the calls they receive in the best way they see fit (after training).

Encouraging autonomy doesn't mean discouraging accountability. Time and again, the author shows us the opposite effect is achieved. Increased autonomy leads to improved engagement and accountability. Furthermore, engagement engenders flow, which facilitates the pursuit of mastery; this is where businesses can reap the big rewards. Innovations, creative outcomes, and developments that push the boundaries of industry are born here.

By creating flow friendly, autonomous environments where employees are deeply motivated by their own and the business's purpose, organizations can answer the problem of stunted growth and revenue lost to absent unengaged workforces. The book provides an author's ‘Type I’ toolkit with nine ways to improve your company, office, or group. It even has tips and tricks to adjust remuneration packages, motivating employees instead of eroding their enthusiasm for their jobs. After explaining the whys and hows of motivation, Drive shows businesses, educational enterprises, and even parents how to embark upon a future of deeper engagement, meaningful purpose, and enthusiastic motivation to deliver the activation energy we all need to live more fulfilling lives.