Book Review of Drive; The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009) Daniel Pink

Book Review of Drive; The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009) Daniel Pink

(Daniel Pink has gained momentum from his earlier bestsellers, Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind.   He is still on that thread of applying scientific knowledge/research to common application in business, education, community, which leads to sales/a broad readership.)

Drive explains that when thinking about motivating others, there is a gap between “what science knows and what business does.”  I like that phrase because it immediately states the conflict, and opportunity, and focus of the book.

Psychologists, and researchers in organizational development, know what works when motivating others.  For instance, external reinforcements do work to motivate people doing routine tasks that do not require complex thinking.  However, as our knowledge workers evolve from 70% routine work to 70% complex/ heuristic work, we “need an upgrade.”  The carrot and stick approach is limited.  In fact, external reinforcements can lead to unethical behavior, short term decision making, crush innovation or creativity or initiative, and can cloud accountability metrics because of inconsistent practices.

So, what does work?  Self-directed workers require environments where we/they balance three essential elements:  1) Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives, 2) Mastery, the urge to get better at something that matters, and 3) Purpose, the desire to do something in the service of something larger than ourselves.

I imagined a descriptive model such as three overlapping columns in a 3-D bar graph.  A worker may be high in autonomy (loosely managed or very experienced in one way of doing tasks), yet low in purpose (without vision from managers or lacking career development hope.)  Consequently, no amount of skills training or micro-managing will be an effective motivator, because that person would not care to master a task.  There seems to be a minimal necessary requirement/ threshold for self directed workers to feel autonomy/ mastery/ purpose.

The application of this model is in its infancy.  He cites dozens of examples, such as performance incentives that need to be tied to ROWE, return on work expected, rather than hours at a cubicle.

Pink distinguishes between Type X (external reinforcement for routine tasks) and Type I (internal reward/ satisfaction for doing purposeful work that develops mastery and rewards autonomy.)  He wants us to move from Type X to Type I.  The good news is that Type I behavior can be developed.  Also, Type I behavior leads to stronger performance, greater health and wellness, and higher self efficacy and well being.

1)     Autonomy.   Management needs to foster autonomous workers who have autonomy over time, task, team and technique.  Companies that foster autonomy greatly outperform their competitors.  Examples include 10% innovation time for projects, at Google, IBM, etc.

2)     Mastery.   Results from engagement.  When workers are “in flow” time passes without great challenge.  In fact, mastery has a) a unique mindset that one can improve one’s abilities, b) mastery is painful and requires deliberate practice, and c) mastery is impossible to attain, therefore both frustrating and attractive.

3)     Purpose.    Alongside profit maximization, the baby boomers are defining “Purpose maximization” in the workplace.   Companies are using a) goals to use profits to support a purpose (such a triple win proposals and social investing), b) careful diction/ plural pronouns to emphasize the impact of us/we, and c) new norms and policies that encourage purposeful endeavors (sabbaticals, cross functional action learning sets, collaborative initiatives…)

Pink has an easy style, with enough examples that the pages fly by.

At the end of the book he has clever approaches to engage readers into discussions.  For instance, “Twenty Conversation Starters to Keep You Thinking and Talking” and “The Type I Reading List: Fifteen Essential Books” in an annotated bibliography.  The result is that this book becomes one among other conversations, with other authors and readers and thinkers.  The reader is engaged.  In fact, the structure models self-directed workers by assuming one is autonomous (capable of independent thought), has mastery (desire to improve) and purpose (ability to apply these ideas to one’s own world.)

In short, one of the most important books I can recall reading in many years.


  1.  Builds upon shift in psychological services from illness toward health.  Extension of positivism.  Huge opportunity for consultants and business leaders.
  2.  Reinforces huge need for coaching that develops unique strengths.  Could be connected to StrengthFinder  assessment
  3.  Complex model that needs a simple application in order to gain momentum in an organization…
  4. When I emailed Daniel Pink, he replied quickly and that impressed me…
On 2.26.12 I just re-read the book for several reasons.
1.  Our daughter is taking AP Psychology and Drive is required reading.  That fact says something about the reach of his book within 2 years.  She is tasked with implementing a capstone project at her independent high school.  I am curious what shea nd her fronds develop.
2.  In the March, 2012  Inc magazine there is a related reference to “The Motivation Matrix” which cites research and a forthcoming book by Noam Wasserman at Harvard, which extends some of Pink’s concepts to explore why entrepreneurs start businesses, and what they (we ) want… very provocative.
Anyone know of any related assessments being used in the field?