Book Notes: Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Give people more money and they will perform better right?

Actually, no.

Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, throws cold water in the face of standard management thinking. In fact, he lists seven reasons why the reward/punishment model is a bad idea if you are trying to motivate your teammates. In this post you can get some of my thoughts on his discoveries, see a compelling video that illustrates his points, and put his ideas to work for you.

Drive - Daniel Pink

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Monkeys and Puzzles

Pink begins with a study involving eight rhesus monkeys in 1949.  Scientists put a mechanical puzzle in their cages to observe their reactions.  They were surprised to find that the monkeys played with the puzzles intently, and they did so without any outside prompting or reward.  Before long, they had become quite skilled at solving them, sometimes within 60 seconds.

This made the scientists curious.  At the time, their view of behavior only accounted for two motivational drives.  The first was the internal biological drive to survive – to do what it takes to remain alive, eat, drink, and further the species.  Clearly, solving the puzzle did not result in any of these things.

The second drive is extrinsic – the promise of reward or punishment for doing something.  This has been a prevalent view of management theorists for some time.  But the monkeys were offered neither reward nor punishment, yet happily tinkered away with the puzzles.  They focused intently, learned, and appeared to be gratified by the process of solving them.

There had to be a third Drive, in which they found enjoyment and reward simply by going through the process of solving the puzzle.

The joy of the task can be its own reward. - Daniel Pink Click To Tweet

Interestingly, when the scientists started to reward the monkeys for solving the puzzle by giving them raisins, the monkeys made more errors and solve correctly less frequently.  The reward and punishment approach actually made things worse.

The Third Drive

From this study, Pink spends the rest of the book unraveling the ideas and concepts behind this third drive.  Every page and chapter is filled with experiments and examples like the one above (but mostly involving humans), with revealing and often unexpected results.

In one respect, Pink’s analysis seems to trace the ideas of Abraham Maslow, who viewed human motivation as a continuum.  The need for food, water, and shelter must be met first, then the need for things like security, belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization in ascending order.  Maslow’s idea was that man was generally not motivated by the higher level needs until the lower ones were met.  More about this concept as a way to focus your leadership effort here.

But Pink takes things a step farther with a closer look at the top end of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  In the modern world, once basic needs are met, up to and including money and the necessities it can provide, the power of money as a reward falls away, and is replaced by three more powerful stimulants: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

In His Own Words

Rather than try to repeat his findings, you can hear Pink explain them himself in this 10 minute video,

The Takeaway

As a leadership tool, his theories are immediately applicable.  To me, some of the key takeaways sound like this:

Reward/Punishment is not a one-size fits all solution to motivating people, so think twice before making it your go-to tool to get things done.
People can actually find more incentive if their tasks involve autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Purpose may be the greatest of these; people want to matter and do things that matter. As a leader, if you can tie the WHAT your team is doing to a clear WHY that matters, you may find you have the strongest motivational tool of them all.

Drive is well worth the time to read as a thought-provoking and eye-opening look into what really makes us function the way we do.

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