Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

by Daniel H. Pink

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Chapter 1 Summary

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In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink suggests that the world currently does not acknowledge one of the human drives that motivates us in the twenty-first century. The world does acknowledge the biological drive, which Pink refers to as “Motivation 1.0," that urges people to eat and to procreate. It also acknowledges external motivations, like rewards and punishments, which Pink refers to as "Motivation 2.0." However, Pink argues that there is a third drive that motivates people, one that is actually hampered by rewards and punishments.

Pink summarizes Harry F. Harlow's 1949 experiment on primates, which found that the ability of monkeys to solve puzzles was inhibited by rewards and punishments. Harlow posited that the performance of the task offered an intrinsic reward. His research into motivation was largely ignored, and motivation systems based on rewards and punishments continued to thrive. However, when Pink looks at the rise in popularity and growth of Wikipedia, the preponderance of open-source software like Mozilla Firefox and Apache, and the emergence of the “low-profit limited liability company,” he sees evidence of the power of Harlow's third drive. Traditional businesses that seek to maximize profits often rely on “Motivation 2.0,” whereas these new entities are “purpose maximizers.” Pink argues that they are “unsuited to this older operating system because they flout its very principles.”

Pink recalls that his economics professors taught him that people would seek to maximize wealth. However, this interpretation of human behavior assumed that people were rational calculators, an assumption that was overturned by Daniel Kahneman's work and which led to Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational. Motivation 2.0 assumes that people are “robotic wealth-maximizers,” but that view of human motivation is no longer compatible with what economists know about motivation. Pink suggests that if people are predictably irrational, they also could be “predictably transcendent” and focus on things like “significance seeking” and self-actualization. Why else do people devote time to things like learning to play the clarinet when there is almost "no chance that it will lead to monetary or reproductive gains?” Not only are material gains less important than people often assume, they may not even be the primary motivator.

Many managers, according to Pink, assume that people do not want to do work. The work that most people do, according to this model, is routine. Surely no one would do this work without compensation. However, Pink argues that jobs have become “more complex, more interesting, and more self-directed." He contends that "[this] type of work presents a direct challenge to the assumptions of Motivation 2.0.” Pink distinguishes "algorithmic" work, which can be automated or outsourced, from "heuristic" work, which is “artistic, empathic, non-routine work.” Motivation 2.0's carrots and sticks can work in relation to algorithmic tasks, but they are ineffective in relation to work that involves “solving novel problems or creating something the world didn't know it was missing.” Accomplishing this kind of work, according to Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, depends upon what she calls “the intrinsic motivation principle of creativity.” Motivation 2.0 may actually impair heuristic performance. Given that Motivation 2.0 meshes so poorly with new business models, Pink concludes that “something's gone awry in our motivational operating system.” He calls upon his readers to invest in an upgrade, "Motivation 3.0," which is based on the third drive.

Chapter 2 Summary

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Carrots and sticks, or Motivation 2.0, fail to motivate people in the twenty-first century. There are two “simple and elegant ideas” at the heart of Motivation 2.0. It is not uncommon to assume that “rewarding an activity will get you more of it” and that “punishing an activity will get you less of...

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it.” Pink acknowledges that these ideas work in some situations, but when carrots and sticks begin to encounter the third drive, strange things happen. In fact, “seven deadly flaws” are commonly witnessed when the third drive meets Motivation 2.0. In these instances, Pink explains, carrots and sticks can produce negative results:

1. Extinguishing intrinsic motivation

2. Diminishing performance

3. Crushing creativity

4. Crowding out good behavior

5. Encouraging cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior

6. Becoming addictive

7. Fostering short-term thinking

Carrots and sticks are instead more useful in motivating people to do routine tasks. When faced with routine tasks, supervisors would still do well to explain why the task is necessary, acknowledge that the task is boring, and allow people to do the task in their own way. However, Pink argues that few workers do routine work in the twenty-first century; consequently, Motivation 2.0 is becoming increasingly irrelevant and increasingly counter-productive.

Employers and supervisors will get better results by adopting strategies that take into account the third drive. “[T]he ingredients of genuine motivation," he suggests, are "autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Allow workers to strive towards mastery, and they will do better work. The tendency to focus on short-term goals and to take shortcuts will be reduced. After all, “goals that people set for themselves and that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy." In contrast, goals imposed by others—such as sales targets, quarterly returns, and standardized test scores—”can sometimes have dangerous side effects.” Pink suggests that both Enron’s collapse and the American recession can be attributed to the short-term thinking that comes from Motivation 2.0.

Pink does not suggest that people will work for free or for a non-competitive wage. He categorizes “salary, contract payments, some benefits” and “a few perks” as “baseline rewards.” When baseline rewards are insufficient, workers will focus on how they are treated unfairly. Their creativity will decline rapidly in these circumstances. However, once the baseline rewards are high enough that they are no longer a factor in the worker’s focus, adding additional extrinsic rewards will only dampen motivation. Pink does not suggest eliminating all rewards. Instead, he warns against using “if-then” rewards and promotes the use of “here-now” rewards that are given out unpredictably. These rewards can be as simple as praise, a lunch out, or genuine and detailed feedback. They should not be introduced at the start of a project as a condition of success, nor should they become predictably routine.

Chapter 3 Summary

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Pink introduces Edward Deci and Richard Ryan as two of the “most influential behavioral scientists of their generation.” After studying intrinsic motivation, Deci and Ryan fashioned “self-determination theory” or “SDT.” Pink explains that SDT begins not with tendencies but “universal human needs.” These innate needs are competence, autonomy, and relatedness. SDT argues that when these needs are not satisfied, productivity—not to mention motivation and happiness—plummets. Motivation 2.0 stifles these needs. Self-determination theory shows that people have an “innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another.” A great deal of the work done to develop self-determination theory was accomplished in the 1970s, and Pink suggests that people are only now becoming aware of it.

Pink tells the story of Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, cardiologists who noticed that people who were susceptible to heart disease lived their lives in the same way. These patients were excessively competitive, impatient, and aggressive. Pink points out that their heart-disease-prone lifestyle defied their diets, their exercise regimens, and their family histories. Friedman and Rosenman referred to their behavior pattern as “Type A.” In contrast, “Type B” behavior is “rarely harried by life or made hostile by its demands.” Interestingly, Friedman and Rosenman discovered that people who exhibited Type B behaviors were as intelligent and “frequently just as ambitious” as their Type A counterparts. Pink points out that the nomenclature, Type A and Type B, remains in use decades later.

Pink next introduces the work of Douglas McGregor, who argued that “those running companies were operating from faulty assumptions about human behavior.” Leaders that put stock in such assumptions believed their employees generally “feared taking responsibility, craved security, and badly needed direction.” Consequently, they held the view that people are mediocre and must be coerced into working, a view that McGregor refers to as “Theory X.” However, McGregor argues that people are invested in work in the same way that they are invested in play and in rest, a view referred to as “Theory Y.” McGregor found that Theory X management strategies created workplaces in which “mediocrity became the ceiling on what you could [achieve, but] if your starting point was Theory Y, the possibilities were vast.”

In regard to human motivation, Pink suggests there are Type I and Type X people. Type X behavior is “fueled more by extrinsic desires than intrinsic ones.” The “Motivation 3.0 operating system” that Pink advocates for depends upon Type I behavior, which is “fueled more by intrinsic desires than extrinsic ones." He explains Type I behavior in more detail: It concerns itself less with the external rewards to which an activity leads and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself.

Pink observes that Type I’s “almost always outperform their Type X counterparts in the long run.” Further, he suggests that Type I behavior is innate; however, people that adopt Type X characteristics can be returned to their Type I behaviors. It is also worth noting that those who exhibit Type I behavior do not disdain money or recognition. Type I behavior is, Pink stresses, a “renewable resource” with unlimited potential, and it “promotes greater physical and mental well-being.” For Type I behavior to flourish, people must be given autonomy in the pursuit of mastery and purpose.

Chapter 4 Summary

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Pink turns his attention to what autonomy means and looks like. Autonomy is distinguished from independence and the “rely-on-nobody individualism of the American cowboy” because autonomy emphasizes choice. It is not necessarily opposed to interdependence. Pink argues that autonomy is a part of human nature. People are not “passive and inert,” as some managers would assume. Rather, they are “wired to be active and engaged.” He argues further that this is true not only of Americans or of Westerners but of all people.

Pink tells stories of multiple companies that operate with a “results-only work environment,” or ROWE. He credits Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, two former human resources executives at Best Buy, with the idea. A ROWE workplace does not have schedules; workers can show up and leave as they wish, but they get their work done nevertheless. Employees are given autonomy in regard to how they do their work, when they do it, and where they do it. Pink introduces Jeff Gunther, CEO of Meddius, to find out what ROWE environments are like. Gunther reports that his staff is motivated and productive and that turnover is down. In fact, Gunther thinks his employees would turn down job offers that include pay increases in order to continue to work in the ROWE workplace. This is not to say that they are underpaid; Gunther feels that salary is just a “threshold motivator.” Other companies, like Google, allow employees to devote as much as one-fifth of their time to autonomous work; the results at Google have included numerous innovative products, like Google News, Gmail, and Google Translate. These companies, and many more, are beginning to discover the power of the third drive.

There are four “essentials” in creating a workplace that values autonomy. The first essential is autonomy in regard to the task. Companies like Google provide evidence of the power of giving people autonomy in determining their tasks. Time is the second essential element. Pink argues that the “billable hour” that lawyers are asked to focus on is a product of Motivation 2.0. He cites studies that show people do better work when they are given autonomy in managing time. “Technique” is also essential. Pink looks at call centers where workers read from a script; he highlights that the turnover in such centers ranges from 35% to 100%. In contrast, he points out that Tony Hsieh’s call center for, where workers are given autonomy in determining technique, enjoys minimal turnover, and its customer-service ranking competes with Jaguar's and Ritz-Carlton's. Finally, it is also essential that people be given autonomy in selecting their work team. Pink points to Facebook, which hires the “talent” but then allows the talent to choose which team it will join. Individuals, Pink reminds his readers, value these essentials neither equally nor uniformly.

Pink is careful to distinguish autonomy from practices like “empowerment” and “flexibility.” He suggests that these approaches presume that "the organization has the power and benevolently ladles some of it into the waiting bowls of grateful employees.” These approaches are actually controlling management practices in disguise. Pink contends that the twenty-first century workplace “calls for a renaissance of self-direction.” He suggests that Motivation 3.0 “presumes that people want to be accountable—and that making sure they have control over their task, their time, their technique, and their team is the most effective pathway to that destination.”

Chapter 5 Summary

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Pink argues that autonomy is the opposite of control. They lead to different results: compliance is produced by control, whereas engagement is produced by autonomy. It is engagement that leads to mastery, which is the second of three elements Pink sees at the heart of Type I behavior. Pink argues that twenty-first century tasks involve “solving complex problems,” which “requires an inquiring mind and the willingness to experiment one’s way to a fresh solution.” Pink points to corporations that claim to “empower” workers and argues that actually the “modern workplace’s most notable feature may be its lack of engagement and its disregard for mastery.” Pink goes on to point out that not only does compliance lead to less productivity, it also leads to less satisfaction in life.

Pink turns to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who became sick of compliance as a young man in Hungary. (The country was controlled first by the Nazis and later by the Soviets.) He became interested in psychology, immigrated to Chicago, and enrolled in university. Within nine years, he has completed his doctorate. Csikszentmihalyi began to research creativity, which led him to study play. Play, according to Pink, is an autotelic experience—an activity that is its own reward. The study of play then led Csikszentmihalyi to examine what he came to call “flow.” Pink explains:

. . . in flow, goals are clear. You have to reach the top of the mountain, hit the ball across the net, or mold the clay just right. Feedback is immediate . . . Most important, in flow, the relationship between what a person had to do and what he could do was perfect. The challenge wasn’t too easy. Nor was it too difficult. It was a notch or two beyond his current abilities.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the “flow” state is that its denial for just two days “plunged people into a state eerily similar to a serious psychiatric disorder.” Pink concludes that flow is “the oxygen of the soul.” However, though flow is an essential part of mastery, it does not guarantee mastery. Flow happens in a moment, whereas mastery can take months, years, or even decades to acquire. Still, there are ways that flow can help people attain mastery. In fact, Pink suggests that there are three “laws of mastery.”

The first law is “Mastery is a Mindset.” In explaining it, Pink cites the work of Carol Dweck, who points out that when people think of their intelligence, they subscribe to either an “entity theory” (intelligence is finite and fixed) or an “incremental theory” (intelligence can be increased with effort). People that subscribe to the “entity theory” choose easier goals since they believe that hard work implies low intelligence. In contrast, people that adopt the mindset that they can improve if they work hard can achieve mastery. Mastery is impossible for those that subscribe to entity theory because they have the wrong mindset.

The second law is “Mastery is a Pain.” Pink turns to the United States Military Academy at West Point and a study that sought to explain why some cadets tough out Cadet Basic Training. The psychologists found that “grit” or “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” was the most important factor. Pink explains that “the path to mastery—becoming ever better at something you care about—is not lined with daisies and spanned by a rainbow.” “Grit” was also a stronger predictor of college grades than IQ or standardized test scores. Mastery requires people to endure hardship.

The third law is “Mastery is an Asymptote.” An asymptote is "a straight line that a curve approaches but never quite reaches.” Pink suggests that the painter Paul Cézanne produced his most enduring work late in his life because he was always striving to "realize his best work.” Pink explains:

[Y]ou can approach [mastery]. You can home in on it. You can get really, really, really close to it. But like Cézanne, you can never touch it.

He points out that great athletes insist they must get better, no matter what level of performance they have reached and suggests that “the joy is in the pursuit more than the realization." Pink concludes that "[i]n the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.”

Chapter 6 Summary

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Pink turns his attention to the third element of the third drive: purpose. Pink considers the Baby Boomers, a generation that is turning sixty, and finds that when people turn sixty, they begin to wonder where the time went. They will typically realize that they may have twenty years left to live. However, realizing that the last twenty years passed quickly, boomers consider how they can make a difference in the world. Pink points out that the children of the Baby Boomers also value the idea that they can make a difference in the world and predicts that the world is about to see “a thunderstorm of purpose the likes of which the world has never seen.”

Pink argues that this pursuit of purpose is a part of the third drive, and that it is no surprise it is manifesting itself in the twenty-first century. Under Motivation 2.0, there was no need for a purpose beyond the profit. In today’s society, Pink reports that people value things that extend beyond the profit margin. He argues that people want to have a “sense of doing something beyond themselves,” and that Motivation 2.0—not to mention the businesses that rely it—“neglects a crucial part of who we are.” Many businesses refuse to acknowledge Motivation 3.0, and their workers are disengaged as a result. It is no surprise, Pink suggests, that as compensated engagement drops, volunteerism becomes more common. The profit motive is significant, but it “can be an insufficient impetus for both individuals and organizations.”

Pink suggests that people rely on a “purpose motive” and sees evidence of it in businesses that try to do good in the world besides making a profit. When he looks at the Harvard Business School’s “MBA Oath,” created after students looked at their peers and realized that “many of these high-profile businesspeople were the ones who pushed the financial system to the brink.” The words in the oath, such as “purpose” and “greater good” have no place in Motivation 2.0’s understanding of humanity. He notices businesses adopting policies that are inspired by this purpose motive.

Pink concludes that goals, words, and policies that offer people a sense of purpose will lead to a “good life” in which people feel better about themselves. This “subjective well-being” is caused by the fact that:

we’re not destined to be passive and compliant. We’re designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice—doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.

Chapter 7 Summary

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The final part of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is a “toolkit.” Pink offers advice to people that want to align their lives with the third drive. He suggests a number of strategies to help people examine the way they live their lives and identify ways to achieve “flow.” For example, he suggests that people try to summarize their life in a sentence. He also advises people to adopt strategies that will allow them to bring mastery into their life.

Pink offers strategies to businesses to unleash the third drive in the work place. He suggests that companies “carve out time for noncommissioned work.” Likewise, companies would benefit from conduct autonomy audits to find out whether workers feel they have sufficient autonomy over their tasks, time, team, and technique at work. Pink advises against annual performance evaluations and instead advises companies to invite workers to review their performance and that of their colleagues. Companies can also “close the gap between perception and reality” by asking employees what they think the purpose of the company is. Finally, companies can “design for the 85 percent” of their workers who are motivated by the third drive rather than the 15 percent that require carrots and sticks.

Pink next turns his attention to “the Zen of compensation.” He reminds his readers that “money is important—very important,” but also warns that “the more prominent salary, perks, and benefits are in someone’s work life, the more they can inhibit creativity and unravel performance.” Pink endorses pay schemes that are competitive with similar organizations and internally consistent. He suggests that companies can avoid “if-then” rewards by paying their workers more than average. He suggests that performance metrics should be “wide-ranging, relevant, and hard to game.” Pink anticipates that readers will argue that salespeople are motivated by money, and he tells the story of how Red Gate increased sales by eliminating commissions and by paying “healthy flat salary.”

Pink also offers advice to parents and educators. He suggests that teachers should give students homework that offers them autonomy, promotes mastery, and has a clear purpose that students understand. He also suggests that schools offer students a Fed Ex day and DIY report cards. He supports giving children an allowance and chores, but advises against combining them. Pink states that praise should specifically focus on effort and strategy, as opposed to intelligence. Furthermore, praise should be specific, private, and should only occur when there is “good reason for it.” Students should be encouraged to see the big picture, and he argues that “in education systems tilted toward standardized tests, grades, and ‘if-then’ rewards, students often have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing.” He advises that teachers be given competitive base salaries rather than merit pay, and that schools should have the freedom to get rid of “awful teachers.”

Pink then discusses how to use the third drive to stay fit. He suggests that people should “set their own goals” and turn their workouts into fun by playing games with friends. People should reward themselves with "now-that" rewards that promote mastery and do not inhibit their performance.

Pink concludes with a Twitter summary that states that “Carrots & Sticks are so last century...we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.”