Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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Prevailing wisdom seems to be that the best way to drive and motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money. According to Daniel H Pink, author of  Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, that’s a big mistake.

Rather, the motivation to achieve success stems from the human need to direct our own lives. We want to learn, create new things and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Pink argues that we need to overhaul mainstream motivational systems. This book, which is in three distinct parts, is an excellent summary of motivation best practice.

The traditional perspective

Part 1 draws on decades of scientific research on human motivation. This examines how the typical approach is increasingly incompatible with contemporary business and life. The traditional perspective contends that to improve performance and increase productivity you reward the good and punish the bad.

These theories worked well to drive economic progress and the technological developments of the last century. However, in those years work was frequently routine and easily categorised. These days, workplaces have become more sophisticated and jobs more complex.

Abraham Maslow and Douglas McGregor work shows that actually people are also swayed by intrinsic motivators. They want to be engaged in their work, as well as take responsibility for it.

Modern behavioural science

In Part 2 Pink reflects on modern behavioural science and motivational theories. New thinking has changed and shaped our view of intelligence, creativity and human potential. Pink concludes that the three elements that make up drive or motivation nowadays are:

  1. Autonomy – our desire to be self-directed
  2. Mastery – our urge to continually refine and improve on what we do
  3. Purpose – our yearning to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

To illustrate what he means, Pink refers to companies that enlist new approaches to motivation. He also introduces us to the scientists and entrepreneurs who are pointing a bold way forward.

Furthermore, Pink demonstrates that how we organise, think about and undertake our work has changed. His examples put paid to the old notion that people don’t like work. He points to open source, such as Wikipedia or Linux. Here, the content has been created by volunteers. Pink argues this is one of the most powerful business models of the twenty-first century. These non-paid volunteers’ intrinsic motivation is their engagement in the content of the work, as well as a desire to make this information accessible to the community.

Work has become more creative

Pink argues that work has become less routine and more creative. He gives examples of real autonomy in organisations when he refers to a number of companies that have configured themselves as a ROWE (results-oriented work environment). Employees set their own hours; they come to work to achieve results and not just put in the 8. 5 hours.

Pink believes our innate desire for mastery, in our professional and personal lives, helps prevent burn-out. This is because it feeds off our need to learn and develop our skills. In terms of the need for purpose or to be part of something bigger than ourselves he refers to organisations that are springing up, where their objective, in addition to making profits is to maximise benefits for society.

Toolkit of resources

Part 3 is a toolkit of resources to help organisations create settings for autonomy, mastery and purpose to flourish. This book is compelling. Pink does a masterful job of showing the limits of widely accepted assumptions about motivation and the potential of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. All of the examples used are a real paradigm shift. They move away from the command-and-control culture and towards giving employees meaningful choices. The toolkit offers good evidence-based advice. This is a fantastic book for managers, educators and anyone who wants to understand better how to motivate others to be as effective as possible.

Isobel Tynan is a senior Learning & Talent Development Professional and AC accredited coach. She has 15 years experience within the Professional Services and engineering sectors in the UK and France as well as Ireland. As an accredited coach with the Association for Coaching, Isobel coaches individuals transitioning into new roles and taking up leadership positions. Isobel has a particular interest on the career advancement of females in the professional and financial services. She has also guest lectured in DCU on this topic.

Anne Sexton

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