Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Who should read this book: Anyone that wants to better understand how they are motivated, or anyone that wants insights to better manage their team.

Author and psychologist Dan Pink largely debunks the myth that we’re motivated by extrinsic rewards, like all-paid-for holidays or extra cash bonuses.

“When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity. Rewards can deliver a short term boost — just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off — and worse, can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.”

This affects the workplace in a few ways. First, it’s been shown that focusing on one extrinsic motivator like money narrows our focus and can lead to cutting corners, encouraging unethical behavior. It reminded me of some greedy merchants in Thailand who would inject extra water into watermelons to increase their weight, whereby they could charge more. Or maybe it’s the company that overcharges and under delivers so that they can make an extra buck, or the sales guy who decides to sacrifice quality so he can make a bigger bonus.

Second, when a manager gives a reward, he or she is basically signaling that the activity is not desirable and that they have to essentially pay you to do this “extra thing” (your job!). The employee will then expect the reward in the future — so it better be there. The bigger problem here is that once the goal is achieved and the reward achieved, what motivation does the employee have for exceeding their goal? Not much. Indeed, great customer service rarely comes from huge cash incentives, but through genuine empathy and attention to quality.  

Of course, not all rewards are bad, and can actually help boost productivity in very repetitive jobs or short-term activities. The idea is that there is little intrinsic motivation to start out with, so you can’t really take it away. For example, if you have to print and fold 1,000 letters — clearly a repetitive task —  you’d probably get a good jolt of motivation from some cash reward. Arguably, you can also develop intrinsic motivation for menial tasks without extrinsic rewards, depending on your state of mind. (How? Check out my my article about the pleasure of doing the dishes).

Big ideas/quotes:

Innate human drive

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

Management and fulfilling potential 

“Management isn’t about walking around and seeing if people are in their offices,” he told me. It’s about creating conditions for people to do their best work.

Perhaps it’s time to toss the very word “management” onto the linguistic ash heap alongside “icebox” and “horseless carriage.” This era doesn’t call for better management. It calls for a renaissance of self-direction.

Actionable Tips 

So if you’re feeling the urge to control, here are three ways to begin letting go—for your own benefit and your team’s: Involve people in goal-setting. Would you rather set your own goals or have them foisted upon you? Thought so. Why should those working with you be any different? A considerable body of research shows that individuals are far more engaged when they’re pursuing goals they had a hand in creating. So bring employees into the process. They could surprise you: People often have higher aims than the ones you assign them. Use noncontrolling language. Next time you’re about to say “must” or “should,” try saying “think about” or “consider” instead. A small change in wording can help promote engagement over compliance and might even reduce some people’s urge to defy. Think about it. Or at least consider it, okay?

Hold office hours. Sometimes you need to summon people into your office. But sometimes it’s wise to let them come to you. Take a cue from college professors and set aside one or two hours a week when your schedule is clear and any employee can come in and talk to you about anything that’s on her mind. Your colleagues might benefit and you might learn something

How to Motivate 

‘How do I motivate people to learn? to work? to do their chores? or to take their medicine?’—are the wrong questions. They are wrong because they imply that motivation is something that gets done to people rather than something that people do.”

When you find yourself in a rut, here are some other techniques to stay motivated at work.

  1. Maintain a good work-rest-play balance. Burnout is real and sustaining intrinsic motivation depends on personal balance.
  2. Do whatever you can do ensure that your work is sufficiently challenging. (If you’re coasting, set yourself higher goals)
  3. Understand the difference between setting goals and developing habits.
  4. Find a mentor. They can help get you on track and plan for your career — like gaining expertise in two or more areas.
  5. Practice mindfulness at work, especially when it comes to the more mundane aspects.
  6. Think deeply about whether you are in the right role, or whether a job or role change might be necessary. One way to boost self-reflection is by keeping a daily journal.
  7. Make sure you are not confusing physical health for career motivation. Some of my most productive, and motivated weeks came from exercising more and abstaining from alcohol. It did wonders, and those low moments of demotivation faded quickly.




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