Book Takeaways: Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Photo by calvin chou on Unsplash

I’ve always found that writing book takeaways as I read helps me process the information from these books. And I got some good feedback the last time I wrote a book takeaway for Creativity, Inc. So here’s a long overdue 2nd installment in my very informal book takeaway series. This time, I’m reading Drive by Daniel H. Pink, a classic read on the theories of motivation. 
 Almost everything in this post is taken directly or summarized from the book, with the exception of “Angela’s Notes” which are my own thoughts that I’ve sparingly sprinkled below. 
 The key takeaway of Drive is that the good old “reward good behavior with carrot, punish bad behavior with stick” motivation model does not work. Instead, we need to appeal to people’s intrinsic motivations, namely, their desire for:

  1. autonomy — the desire to make their own decisions
  2. mastery — the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters to them
  3. purpose — the yearning to do what they do in the service of something larger

Why Carrot-and-Stick doesn’t work

Carrot-and-stick doesn’t work because it extinguish intrinsic motivations, crush creativity, encourage unethical behaviors like cheating (Angela’s Note: Wells Fargo, anyone?), is addictive, and fosters short term thinking. 
 However, if there’s known mundane rule-based work, it’s okay to fall back on the carrot-and-stick model because there’s no intrinsic motivations to be extinguished anyway. In that case, the way to approach this work is:

  1. offer rationale for why the task is necessary
  2. acknowledge that it’s boring
  3. allow people to complete the task in their own way
  4. give surprise rewards after the task is complete (as opposed to “if you do this, you get X”).

More on autonomy, mastery, and purpose

Don’t assume people inherently want to avoid work. In fact, work is as natural as play and rest. With the right goals and in the right environment, people want to take initiatives, be creative, and seek more responsibility.
 Autonomy — Managers should provide ample choices over what to do and how to do it, and encourage reports to take on new projects. 
 Mastery — Know that mastery is a lot of work and a lot of pain. Growth mindset is important here because the mastery of something is not a natural trait. It involves working and working and showing little improvement, then making a little progress, then working and working from a slightly higher plateau. This quote captures it well: “Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on a day you don’t feel like doing them.” 
 Purpose — Help people understand how what they do contributes to the larger whole — the “why,” not the “how”. In fact, dictating “how” to do something might detract from people’s inherent drive to “do the right thing”. So explain “why” and give people the autonomy to do what they think needs to be done. 
 Purpose — The “why” matters. Happiness isn’t just based on achieving any goals, profit maximizing goals (e.g. to make $$) don’t make you happier even after you achieve them. Purpose-based goals (e.g. the learn, to make X’s lives better) will make you happy.

How to motivate yourself?

Mastery — To find out what makes you happy / in the flow (where flow means being in the optimal experience when the challenges we face are exquisitely matched to our abilities, not too hard and not too easy), set 40 random reminders on your phone throughout the week, each time it goes off, write down:

  • what are you doing at this moment?
  • how are you feeling?
  • are you in the flow?

Mastery — Deliberate practice lets you achieve mastery. Great tennis players don’t practice the same move over and over again. Change your performance. Set new goals. Push yourself a bit harder.
 Purpose — Ask yourself what is the 1 sentence of what you want to achieve. E.g. “FDR is great because he lifted us out of the Great Depression and helped us win a world war.” “Lincoln is great because he preserved the union and freed the slaves.” What would make you feel great?
 Purpose — Take a year off every 7 years to experiment. Live in a different country, travel, do a project that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

How to motivate your team?

Great people are self-motivated. Figuring out how to motivate unmotivated people is a waste of time. The real question is “how to manage so that you don’t demotivate good people?” Some techniques:

  • Lead with questions, not answers.
  • Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.
  • Conduct blameless postmortems.
  • Make it easy for employees and customers to speak up when they see a problem.

Autonomy — Carve out a small island of non-commissioned work — e.g. work that appeals to your curiosity and nothing else. The only requirement of this work is that you need to deliver something (a new idea, a prototype, a new internal process, etc)

Angela’s Note: it’s often hard to do that, either impromptu or in hack weeks, because you feel like you are abandoning your teammate on projects that you should be doing. One way to mitigate that is to encourage people on your team to do non-commissioned work right after they shipped a project. If they are in between projects anyway, it’s much easier to justify delaying start of the next project by a few days.

Autonomy — Explicitly evaluate autonomy (Angela’s Note: could do this as part of a biannual Pulse Survey):

  • How much autonomy do you have over your tasks at work — your main responsibilities and what you do in a given day?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your time at work — e.g. when you arrive, when you leave, and how you allocate your hours each day?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your team at work — that is, to what extend are you able to choose the people with whom you typically collaborate?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your technique at work — how you actually perform the main responsibilities of your job?

Mastery — Fast (e.g. monthly) feedback cycle + goal setting + goal evaluation.
 Purpose — One example of how this is done: anyone on the team can award a colleague a $50 bonus at any point for a job well done. 
 Purpose — As a manager, block off 1–2 hours a week for office hours so that anyone on your team can come and talk to you. Angela’s Note: the volunteer attendance likely will drop after a while when the office hour becomes routine. Consider proactively reaching out individuals and encourage them to talk to you about specific topics.

Angela’s Final Notes on Drive

The book is a quick read (~4 hours total) but nonetheless repetitive at times. I would recommend reading Chapter 2 on why carrot-and-stick school of motivation doesn’t work, then Chapters 4, 5, and 6 which breaks down the 3 pillars of motivation (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) in detail, then read whatever specific scenarios interest you in Part 3, which for me were:

  • Type I For Individuals: Nine Strategies for Awakening Your Motivation
  • Type I for Organizations: Thirteen Ways to Improve Your Company, Office, or Group
  • Listen to the Gurus: Seven Business Thinkers Who Get It

For the chapters you skip (in the recommendation above, Chapters 1, 2a, and 3), you can read Drive: The Recap chapter at the end of the book to get the gist of them.

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