Book Review: Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us / by Krista Boivie

This is the first in what I plan to be a regular series of book reviews.  I will make two disclaimers. 1) I usually only read books that I enjoy—and therefore most of these book reviews will be less about critiquing the book and more about sharing the insights I found most illuminating. 2) If I am reviewing the book, my recommendation will almost always be an endorsement for you to read it.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

The book is listed in the Business/Marketing category, but I found it an enjoyable read that parents, teachers and other non “business” types would find interesting as well.

The main premise of the book is boiled down to three core ideas:

  1. Autonomy – we want to have control over our work.
  2. Mastery – we want to get better at what we do.
  3. Purpose—we want to be a part of something that is bigger than us.

Pink states that a model work environment incorporates the three core ideas as well as one other caveat—they take money off the table.  What I mean by that is that they pay their employees for the value of their work so that money no longer becomes the motivating factor for doing the work. He states that if workers feel underpaid it makes them feel undervalued and consequently they don’t work at their optimal level.  He also suggests effectively integrating nonmonetary motivators like praise and useful feedback. Proper and feedback/praise can go a long way to improve the motivation of individuals.

As a public school teacher I understand this concept well and I have seen this in action—teachers who feel underpaid and undervalued putting in the bare minimum or only working until their “contract” time is finished. It is hard to collaborate and conduct trainings with teachers who feel beat up by the system. I believe this is the reason why the average tenure of new teachers is only 5 years.

These three core ideas are predicated on the concept of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.  If we do things because want to do them then we will generally work hard, be productive and excel—however when we do things only because of a carrot/stick model then we will be less productive, not as interested and generally not perform well.

Rewards can perform a weird sort of behavioral alchemy: they can transform an interesting task into a drudge. They can turn play into work.
— pg. 37

I have always had strong intrinsic motivation, which enables me to tackle numerous projects and try different things; however, I have spent a good part of my life chasing after the carrot model as well. Dangle extra money in front of me and i will always accept the work, even if I have no desire to do the project in the first place.

Carrots and Sticks: The Seven Deadly Flaws:

They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
They can diminish performance
They can crush creativity.
They can crowd out good behavior.
They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.
They can become addictive.
They can foster short-term thinking
— pg. 59

One of the biggest debates in education today is paying teachers on a performance scale based on testing.  This type of behavior is indicative of the carrot and stick model and there is no evidence that it is successful. There is however extensive evidence of teacher’s manipulating the system and their students to minimize the effects of this type of performance structure.

Of course we all know that we must perform tasks at work (or in life in general) that are less desirable. Pink states by offering a rationale for the task, acknowledging that it is boring and allowing people to complete it their own way, will increase the chances of successful completion. (I try to use this method all the time with my AP students)

It might not be possible for your workplace to give you all the autonomy, mastery and purpose you desire and so Pink recommends setting small and long term goals in order to increase your own performance and bring some motivating back into your work environment.

At the end of each day, ask yourself whether you were better today than you were yesterday. Did you do more? Did you do it well? Or to get specific, did you learn your ten vocabulary words, write your four pages, make your eight sales calls, eat your five servings of fruit and vegetables.” You don’t have to be flawless each day, instead, look for small measures of improvement.
— pg. 155

The book goes into the three core ideas in much greater detail by providing workplace examples and measurement tools for yourself if you are feeling unmotivated and stuck in your work or your life. If you are feeling that way, I would strongly recommend reading the book.

The last idea from Pink I want to leave you with is:

In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce offered some advice to President John F. Kennedy: A great man, is one sentence. Abraham Lincoln’s sentence was ‘He preserved the union and freed the slaves.’
— pg. 154

As you contemplate your purpose, begin with the big question: What's your sentence?