Book Review: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
If you have ever struggled with feeling motivated about anything in your life - your career, exercise, family obligations, anything, this is the book for you. Daniel Pink looks into the science of human motivation and shows us that most of what we have been taught from elementary school through corporate life is dead wrong about how to motivate ourselves and others.
This book is an easy read, and on the short side as at the end, he spends time naming other books and people who deal with this subject. Yet the real substance of the book is packed full of life-changing revelations - at least it was for me. If you've ever had those days where you just don't feel like doing anything, this book might help you understand why, and how to turn that around. I think everyone who reads this book will take something different from it, but let me share with you what was really eye-opening for me.
"If you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life." - Marc Anthony
This is an idea that is often pushed in our society. Find a way to get paid to do what you love and life will be great, it encourages. I have followed this idea in my life, and unfortunately, I have found that it doesn't usually turn out to be true for me. As soon as something that I love doing becomes an obligation, because I am paid to do it, it often stops being something that I love. For a long time, I thought that this made me crazy, or broken somehow. Turns out, according to Drive, this is actually a real, measurable psychological phenomenon.
Pink calls it the "Sawyer Effect" (based on the scene of painting the fence in Tom Sawyer). The key motivational principle is "that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that PLAY consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." Rewarding what was once intrinsically motivating (something you loved to do) with external rewards (money) creates a "weird sort of behavioral alchemy: they can transform an interesting task into a drudge." This is precisely what I have experienced in my life - turns out I'm not crazy, I'm just feeling the Sawyer Effect!
Pink goes on to argue that because of this, the "carrot and stick" methods of motivation humans have been relying on are no longer useful. Instead of assuming that humans are inherently lazy and need either the promise of reward or the threat of punishment to work, science shows us that most humans are intrinsically motivated to do work that interests them - and we need more of that in the world.
Now, to be sure, people still need to get paid. But instead of making salaries, benefits, and the promise of more of each the way we motivate people, Pink argues that we need to take money off the table. Pay people enough so they don't have to worry about paying their bills, or struggle through life, and then you can get to the real drive people have to do excellent work. A Princeton study in 2010 even put a precise dollar amount on this - $75,000 (about $86,000 today).
So if money is no longer our motivating factor, what is? Pink argues there are three principles that motivate people today (once basic physical and psychological needs are met.) These three are Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. The book goes into depth on each one, but I'll just share a brief summary of each.
Autonomy is the idea that we get to do what we want when we want to do it. For most people, the idea of autonomy in the workplace is anathema. Let people do only what they want to do when they want to do it and nothing that needs to get done will actually get done. But Pink shows example after example of offices where people have been given autonomy and productivity has risen. He argues that we need autonomy in four areas: Time, Task, Technique, and Team.
Let me translate this into my own experience. In my last full-time position, as a chaplain at a retirement community, I had basic autonomy in 3 of those 4 areas. I was mostly in charge of my tasks and technique - I was in charge of spiritual care for the whole campus, but exactly what I did and how I did it was up to me - no one was telling me exactly how to provide that care. I also had autonomy over team - there was no one I was forced to work with, and I was able to choose people all over campus to work with on various projects. What I lacked at this job? Autonomy over my time. And that is eventually what broke me.
The lack of autonomy over my time meant that for the first year of that job I was working 6 days a week. Even though I worked every Sunday morning they still wanted me in the office at 8 am Monday through Friday just like every other office worker - even though my job was clearly not the same as every other office worker. When I had funerals to do, I worked Saturdays as well, and weeks would go by without my having a single full day off. I tried to speak to my superiors about this, to set better boundaries and take other time off to compensate for the extra work I was doing. They didn't care. After about a year (and a staff restructuring) I was able to talk them into letting me have Fridays off, so I could have two days off in a row (if there wasn't a funeral). It was made clear that this was an extreme courtesy they were giving me, and if any events or meetings popped up on Fridays I was still to be there.
Eventually, even though I had thought this was my dream job, this lack of autonomy over my time led to burnout. I couldn't do it anymore. I felt trapped, overworked, and underappreciated. So I quit. Looking back, if I had possessed the language this book has given me, I would have done something different. I would have talked to my superiors about the concepts in this book and asked for autonomy over my time. I did good work there. Everyone loved me, and they were shocked when I left. If I simply had known to ask for autonomy over my time - and if they had been willing to give it to me - I probably could have worked there for the rest of my life.
When he speaks of Mastery, Pink also speaks of the concept of "flow." I think this is something we have all experienced at some point in our lives, even if we wouldn't know to name it as such. Flow is reached when we are working on something that is so engaging, we lose a sense of time and what is going on around us, because we are so focused on the task ahead of us. Programmers will sit at their computer for hours, writers will write thousands of words without stopping, athletes will run for miles when it barely feels like one.
When we reach a state of 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. In flow, people lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away." That perfectly describes something I felt at many times in my life - back when I was a dancer, times when I have been writing liturgy or a sermon, and often when I'm writing a blog post I am extra passionate about. Flow is a state we should all seek because it is when we will produce our best work.
The idea of working in flow moves us towards mastery - which is "becoming better at something that matters." Mastery is a mindset - we must recognize that our abilities can always grow and improve, it demands effort and practice, and we must realize that it is not something we will ever fully achieve, which Pink says makes it "simultaneously frustrating and alluring."
By our nature as humans, we seek purpose. Most of us want to know that in our lives we have contributed to something greater than ourselves. And yet, so much of daily life, and especially work, for most people, does nothing to contribute to this. But what if it did? How much more could humanity create and experience if we changed our goal with work from "make as much money as possible" to "make a difference in the world"? Pink argues that society is starting to make this shift. I hope he is right.
At the end of the book, Pink gives what he calls the "Twitter Summary."
Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st-century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.
Obviously, there is so much more in this book than I can write about in one blog post - but these are the basic concepts that turned on some light bulbs for me. Hopefully, they will for you, too! And if you want to learn more, of course, read the full book! So what concepts stood out to you? Are these things you have heard before or new concepts? Have you read the book, or do you want to now? Let's chat!