Monday, 19 December 2011

What floats your boat

Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us (2009) by Daniel H. Pink is a New York Times best seller which quashes outdated notions of what motivates people.

Pink argues that we need to move to a new era of motivation. In Motivation 1.0 we were driven by biological needs, at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. In the revised 2.0, punishments and rewards were motivators. Now, we need to move beyond 'carrot and stick' systems because people are most engaged by intrinsic motivators. In Motivation 3.0 intrinsic motivation consists of three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

As a big believer in the value of intrinsic motivation, the ‘surprising truth’ is not that astounding for me. But I can understand that for a lot of people, trapped by a carrot and stick mentality, will find this revealing as Pink argues against tangible if/then rewards (e.g. bonuses, promotions) and for a deeper understanding of ‘Type I’ behavior based on the inherent satisfaction of an activity.

Pink’s writing style makes for easy reading although some parts are a bit simplistic. But there were phrases that caught my eye like: "We're born to be players, not pawns. We're meant to be autonomous individuals, not individual automatons' (page 107) and "control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement" (page 110). Fortune cookie wisdom? Sure, but true.

As a business text, managers can learn a lot from Pink’s arguments.  For example, Pink cautions against goals set by management and not by individuals. He writes "the problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road" (page 51). He encourages managers to relinquish control and create a work environment that allows for intrinsic motivation. As a manager I have continually tried to create just such an environment and can attest to the difference in productivity, collegiality and engagement in teams that are motivated intrinsically and those that are not.

Pink is a big fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and continually refers to his work on flow.  I have recently read Csikszentmihalyi’s book Finding Flow and have reviewed it on this blog. Pink’s book is infinitely more readable.

The last section is a “Toolkit” designed to help readers to take action in their work, at home, and in other personal challenges through a series of motivational snippets. This section seemed odd to me as if Pink was using up leftover material.

I really loved how he summarized the book in a chapter called “Drive: the Recap” where Pink writes chapter summaries, a 100 word summary and my favourite:  a Twitter summary ("Carrots and Sticks are so last Century. Drive says for 21st century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.”). ‘Nuff said.

If you want to know more, but don’t feel motivated enough to read the book, Pink gave a talk at TED on motivation in July 2009.