July 22, 2010
Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us
Daniel H. Pink, New York: Riverhead Books, 2009; 1 + 242 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 978-1-59448-884-9
Daniel Pink, author of the noted A Whole New Mind, concentrates his efforts on motivation in his new book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Pink takes issue with the traditional idea of what actually motivates individuals. The expected rewards system for motivation does not work. Throughout the book, Pink offers a series of scientific studies arguing the point. He analyzes motivation in basically two spheres: business and science. Indeed, he makes the point that “ For too long, there’s been a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. The goal of this book is to repair that breach.” (pgs. 9-10)
Pink studies the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. He begins by going thousands of years back to the days of early humans where survival was the motivating factor in behaviour. However, Pink argues that we are more “than the sum of our biological urges.” (p. 18) Indeed, Pink claims that we had a “second drive”. (p. 18) This drive, Pink calls it Motivation 2.0, sought out reward and avoided punishment. However, in the final analysis, Motivation 2.0 was not a hopeful or noble view of looking at human behaviour; it basically saw humans as horses who would act based on a carrot held out in front of them.
Pink takes on Motivation 2.0 by analyzing the relationship between behaviour and economics. Citing various economists, one he actually studied under while in college, Pink explains that economics is based on human behaviour, and that behaviour can at times be irrational. Most economists now believe that Motivation 2.0 does not fully explain the complexities of human action.
A thought-provoking aspect of the book is Pink’s analysis of algorithmic and heuristic work. Algorithmic work is where one follows a set of specific tasks that leads to a specific objective. Heuristic work does not have a set of rules or guidelines to follow. The individual must find creative ways in discovering a solution. The rewards system based on the carrot and stick method applies well to algorithmic work, but has negative consequences for heuristic work.
Pink writes that developing new and creative ways of solving problems involves a “third drive.” (p. 30) Teresa Amabile, a researcher at Harvard Business School, claims that the third drive concerns the belief that intrinsic motivation allows for creativity and extrinsic motivation is damaging to creativity. Once again, these ideas shake the foundations of what Motivation 2.0 claims.
Pink elucidates his ideas further by looking to literature. He writes about Chapter II of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where Tom is whitewashing his Aunt’s fence. He is not exactly happy with the task. However, when Tom’s friend Ben stops by, Tom exhibits fascination and enjoyment at his job. Ben is now intrigued and offers Tom his apple for a chance to slap whitewash on the fence. Several other boys stop by and find themselves whitewashing the fence also. This description in the novel speaks to the idea that work is what people are required to perform and play or leisure is what people are not required to perform. Pink cites Twain as writing in the novel that British gentlemen drive passenger coaches for the privilege, but they would resign from the activity if they were offered wages to do it, since then it would turn into work. Through this piece of literature, Pink argues that a rewards-system of motivation can actually turn play into work. He calls this the “Sawyer Effect”. This effect can also turn work into play.
Pink also delves into the subject of autonomy. He references Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollock as people who never followed the rules of Motivation 2.0. They did not abide by a fixed set of rules that dictated to them when, where and how to paint. Pink claims that we need to be as free and autonomous in our lives as these great painters were. Motivation 2.0 assumed that autonomous people would veer away from responsibility and work. Motivation 3.0 assumes something different. It argues that people want to be answerable and responsible. If individuals are given the freedom to be creative in their work, they will rise to the occasion. Pink is willing to concede that people become comfortable with following systems that give clear guidelines and operating procedures. People would have a difficult time at work if employers adopted Motivation 3.
As in his last book, Pink presents ways in which the reader can put his ideas into action. It includes tips on developing one’s motivation; ways to improve one’s company or business; helping youth; information from business leaders and a helpful reading list. Books that Pink recommends include Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success; and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Pink justifies his ideas by citing scientific studies and major thinkers in science, economics and business. However, it is possible to make the case that human behavior is too complicated and dynamic to reduce it to scientific studies. Is not Pink attempting to explain behaviour just as much as the proponents of Motivation 2.0? Is it actually that easy to analyze motivation through tags such as Motivation 2.0 and Motivation 3.0? Pink is on strong ground when he discusses the realities of algorithmic work versus heuristic work. Indeed, it is an excellent way to analyze the nature and functions of work. He also offers an interesting idea when he claims that there is a third drive to humans. However, one can certainly question whether Motivation 3.0, with its positive view toward human nature, is the proper paradigm shift to make. Overall, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is an insightful, well-informed book. Educators and business leaders would do well to verse themselves on the ideas contained in this book.