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Date Author Title
2012-01-05 Steve Gardiner Book Review: Drive by Daniel Pink

Human motivation is a fascinating subject. Why do we make the choices we do? Why are we successful in some endeavors and fail in others? Why do we avoid some activities but find it almost impossible to stay away from other activities?

These and other questions are the basis for Daniel Pink's excellent book Drive (Riverhead Books, 2009).


Pink opens the book with an account of experiments conducted by Edward Deci in 1969, studies that even now seem to defy logic. He had college students work on a puzzle. One group was rewarded for completing the puzzles and the other group was not rewarded. The students worked on the puzzles for a specified amount of time, then were told to wait while the researcher recorded information. The actual experiment was to see if, during this free time, the students continued to work on the puzzles on their own, or if they chose other activities to fill the time. Intuition would tell us that the rewarded group would work harder on the puzzles and continue working on them during the free time, but Deci found the opposite was true. The rewarded group stopped working once the reward was removed. In other words, the reward actually reduced intrinsic motivation in the subjects.


This study has been replicated many times using a variety of formats and Pink uses this as a beginning for looking was what motivates human beings in their lives. He defines what he calls Motivation 1.0 as our ancestral drive to survive. He says we later moved to Motivation 2.0 which he defines as the tendency to seek rewards and avoid punishments. That was our motivation throughout much of our successful historical development. Now, however, Pink believes we are at a stage of Motivation 3.0.


His example of this is the modern world of encyclopedias. Microsoft spent millions of dollars to pay the world's experts to write thousands of articles for MSN Encarta. About the same time, a second encyclopedia came into existence based on the volunteer work of thousands of people who wrote articles, edited each other's work, and created Wikipedia, the largest encyclopedia we have even known. Only one of these encyclopedias still exists today.


Why did Wikipedia, without the support of a major corporation and relying on volunteer labor, dominate an encyclopedia produced by one of the most powerful companies on earth? According to Pink and the theory of Motivation 3.0, there are three elements that form the answer and the key to our modern motivation. Based on further work by Deci and Ryan in their Self-Determination Theory, Pink defines those three elements as follows:


Element 1—Autonomy. We have a desire to self-direct our lives. When we control our own actions, we become more creative, more productive, more happy. Pink says we achieve autonomy when we control the 4 Ts—the task, the time, the technique, and the team. Autonomy gives us pride in our work and ownership of the product.


Element 2—Mastery. We need to feel competent in our lives. Too much challenge leads to anxiety. Too little challenge leads to boredom. The right amount of challenge, or Goldilocks tasks as Pink calls them, lead us to a sense of mastery and a state of mind called Flow by researcher Mihalyi Csikczentmihalyi. This desire to control and master aspects of our lives is a major component in what motivates us.


Element 3—Purpose. While profit may be a purpose for some individuals, Pink reports that many researchers are finding that more people are motivated by activities that link them to a purpose larger than themselves. They volunteer to help other people, they spend hours working on ideas that might improve some aspect of life, they devote their lives to making a difference in the world. Pink believes we need to know that our lives had a purpose.


Pink sums up his theme by writing, “The science shows that the secret to high performance isn't our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose.”



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