Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Publisher: Riverhead
Year: 2009
Pages: 256

My interest in Drive was piqued by a presentation that Pink gave during a TED talk. The idea itself is interesting, but it also dovetails nicely with my general focus of study during my MBA coursework1 , namely intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. That might sound a little like jargon; it gets easier.

To understand where Pink is coming from, you first have to understand his simple (but, I think, generally accurate) summary of human cultural development. In the earliest stages of society, Man was motivated by a desire (1) to not get killed and (2) to have sex and reproduce; these rather Darwinian impetuses comprises what pink refers to as “Motivation 1.0” beginning an extended software metaphor that is admittedly rather contrived and sickly. By the time we had figured out industry, and Frederick Taylor had begun to realize that managing employees could be approached as a science, our motivational scheme had advanced to “Motivation 2.0”: specifically, you reward behavior you want more of (carrot) and punish behavior you want less of (stick).

This scheme has survived ever since, and is the predominant way that businesses are run. Standard practice says that if you offer a higher salary, you get higher-caliber employees (think CEOs); similarly, you can get employees to work harder, faster, and better by offering them bonuses and raises2. Everyone more or less assumes this to be true, but the premise of both Pink’s TED video and this book is that the theories behind “Motivation 2.0” only work for a narrow band of work.

It turns out that for at least 30 or 40 years, behavioral scientists and IO psychologists have known that when it comes to creative work, or work that involves problem-solving, monetary inducements actually decrease performance. Pink illustrates this on a small scale with Sam Glucksberg’s use of the Candle Problem, but it’s more or less been validated by experiments from every major school of economics and business in the world3. His prominent real-world examples include a comparison of the volunteer-driven Wikipedia (the world’s largest encyclopedia) and the Microsoft-financed Encarta (which folded in 2008), as well as the open source movement worldwide.

Throughout, Pink says he’s talking about the difference between “what Science knows and what Business does”; why, he wants to know, do so many businesses still persist in the “carrot and stick” model of management when there’s all this data that undermines it? We as readers are likely to agree; by the end we are asking ourselves, with just a hint of froth, why such a thing should be. As with so many books which proclaim to shake the very foundations of something, they rarely offer a careful, reasoned account of conflicted opinions. The obvious answer is that there are certain businesses that can make these principles work—Pink notes Google and Atlassian specifically—but there are still a lot of them that can’t. Whenever we talk about globalization and the flight of jobs from the U.S., we invariably say that industrial jobs and low-level white collar work (call centers, for instance) are moving to developing countries like India, but they’re being replaced by knowledge-based and creative jobs that require more that rote work. I agree this is true, but we’re still a long, long way from that being the norm: not every institution has the leisure of employing only creative, honest people who like their jobs. Pink assessment of Motivation 3.0 is correct, but not yet widespread.

To his credit, I think Pink understands that, despite his Paul Revere act—”Intrinsic motivation is coming! Intrinsic motivation is coming!” The transition from the old Frederick Taylor method of incentive and management is happening, but it’s happening slowly, and we’ll never entirely get away from a business world where money and pseudo-monetary perks are still heavily used to incent good performance and behavior. As if to help, the last third of Pink’s book is a “Motivation 3.0 Toolkit”, which seemed to me a lot like filler: when simplifying intrinsic motivators to the level of popular science, you can only talk for so long before you begin to repeat yourself (Pink is guilty of this). So how do you round out your book to an even 256 pages? Why, recommend a lot of books that bolster your argument, and reiterate all of your points in blurb form, as though a Powerpoint presentation for managers.

Pink has genuinely interesting things to say, but I can’t help but feel like his TED talk was much more compelling in its brevity and delivery; by contrast, Drive felt a little turgid.

  1. See Satisfaction, Enrichment, and Motivation and Information Systems and Perceived Locii of Control[]
  2. Or, as plenty of companies found out, the threat of layoffs will also accomplish this, at least in the short term.[]
  3. Notably, the London School of Economics and the Wharton school, to name just two[]
§5761 · July 15, 2010 · Tags: , , , , , ·

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