Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel H. Pink

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A transformational book, “Drive” (“The Book”) by Daniel Pink turns received wisdom regarding motivation and incentives on its head, but not before according a refreshing and revolutionary alternative. The conventional fodder for motivational thought has always had at its core, the entrenched belief that both cause and consequence are pliable to either the rewards of a dangling carrot or the reverberations of a deadly stick. But does human behavior operate in such a predictably malleable manner?

A band of primates (unknowingly) and a psychology Professor (deliberately) at the University of Wisconsin, tried to unravel an inherent fallacy innate in the carrot and stick approach. As Mr. Pink details, in the year 1949, professor Harry H. Harlow and eight rhesus monkeys devised and participated, respectively, in a laboratory experiment the outcome of which was the revelation of the idea behind the existence of “intrinsic reward”. Going beyond the two ingrained drives of biology and extrinsic motivation that characterized the existence of workings of human nature, Professor Harlow, asserted that there was a “third drive” which was radically different from its two compatriots. It is this drive which forms an integral component of Mr. Pink’s book.

Our traditional grasp of motivation or “motivation 2.0” as Mr. Pink terms it, suffers from three ‘incompatibility problems’ namely, how we organize what we do, how we think about what we do and how we do what we do. Paraphrasing Bruno Frey, an economist at the University of Zurich, Mr. Pink writes, “intrinsic motivation is of great importance for all economic activities. It is inconceivable that people are motivated solely or even mainly by external incentives.”

Post identifying these incompatibility factors, Mr. Pink proceeds to expound on seven reasons why the carrot-and-stick approach fails to achieve its objective. One of the primary reasons is the diminishing (if not a complete obliteration) of creativity. Backing up this contention with the empirical findings of psychologist Karl Duncker in the 1930s (the intrepid can do a google search for “candle test”), Mr. Pink gives a gist of the startling conclusion for the test: “in direct contravention to the core tenets of Motivation 2.0, an incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity ended up clouding thinking and dulling creativity.”

Mr. Pink also proffers an alternative to Motivation 2.0. Unimaginatively titled – you might have guessed it by now – Motivation 3.0, this substitute has its genesis in making an individual transition from Behaviour X to Behaviour I. While Behaviour X is based on the tried, tested and unappealing tenets of Motivation 2.0, Type I behavior “concerns itself less with the external rewards an activity brings and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself. For professional success and personal fulfillment, we need to move ourselves and our colleagues from Type X to Type I.” There are three elements to Motivation 3.0: Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose. An example of autonomy is highlighted by Mr. Pink with reference to the practices incorporated by the company Zappos. It’s CEO Tony Hsieh says: “Studies have shown that perceived control is an important component of one’s happiness. However, what people feel like they want control over really varies, so I don’t think there’s one aspect of autonomy that’s universally the most important. Different individuals have different desires, so the best strategy for an employer would be to figure out what’s important to each individual employee.”

Mastery refers to people “forgetting themselves in a function,” as the poet W.H. Auden put it.

Purpose completes the troika of elements characterizing Motivation 3.0. Purpose maximization is taking its place alongside profit maximization as an aspiration and a guiding principle.”

Resorting to the example of artists, Mr. Pink says that they are more creative when not working for money. Pink unconventionally employing the example of Tom Sawyer says: “faced with the tedious task of whitewashing a fence, he pretends to be enjoying it, and pretty soon, everybody wants to help.”  Mr. Pink also keeps making repeated reference to the seminal work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist responsible for recognizing and naming the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state. In an interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

“Drive” does not advocate relegating Motivation 2.0 to the confines of a historical dust-bin. All it advocates is supplementing the same with the facets of Motivation 3.0 with an avowed objective of bestowing autonomy, mastery and purpose upon human nature with a view to attaining professional success and personal fulfillment.

4 thoughts on “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel H. Pink

  1. And what motivates me to write? To take photos? To hit a long distance trail? I’d say push, rather than drive. It’s the pleasure, on whichever scale, of pushing oneself beyond previous bounds. No one to pay me. No one to congratulate me. No glory to bask in. Just me, myself, I. 🙂

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