Five Stars for Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”

Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition) is well worth reading and thinking about. I hope readers — including librarians and teachers — will apply, with gusto, in all school and work environments, the fact “that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive” (Kindle Location [hereafter KL] 324-325) motivator of good work performance. The more we all do that, the better work – and life – will be for all of us.

The concepts Pink discusses weren’t a surprise to me, and I’ve long supported his conclusions. I’ve been reading and thinking about human motivation for more years than I want to count – since high school, back in the dark ages when the Skinner Box was all the rage and theoretical battles were still waging hot and heavy between the Freudians and Jungians and between the psychoanalytic theorists and behaviorists. Acceptance of combinations of what Pink calls Motivation 1.0 (the drives to survive – food, shelter, procreation) and Motivation 2.0 (to seek reward and avoid punishment more broadly) was common; Maslow’s ideas about humanistic psychology were not universally accepted.

I remember debating Frederick Herzberg’s ideas about job motivation in both high school and college classes. In college, the Humanities and English profs, especially, came down on Herzberg’s side, citing their own careers as proof that motivation included both Herzberg’s extrinsic rewards (pay, working conditions, job security) and innumerable and to them more important intrinsic rewards. A good number of the psychology and sociology profs agreed, but about as many played semantic games to define all motives as still extrinsic. My own zig-zag through life proves to me how dominantly important intrinsic motivation is.

What did surprise me was Pink’s including Best Buy and Gap, as well as some government agencies, in its list of employers paying attention to the value of intrinsic motivation enough to become ROWE (results only work environment) organizations. It’s a move I did not expect anytime soon from any but tech companies, like WordPress (see my review of The Year Without Pants) and Netflix. As Pink says:

Too many organizations— not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well —still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science. They continue to pursue practices such as short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes in the face of mounting evidence that such measures usually don’t work and often do harm. Worse, these practices have infiltrated our schools, where we ply our future workforce with iPods, cash, and pizza coupons to “incentivize” them to learn. – (KL 187-191).

I also was happy to learn more about the new types of corporations being developed. These include Vermont’s “low-profit limited liability company” or L3C, which does generate at least modest profits has the primary aim of offering significant social benefits.” (KL 339-342); Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ “social businesses” which replace the profit-maximization principle with the social-benefit principle;” and The Fourth Sector Network’s is promotion in the United States and Denmark of the for-benefit organization— both economically self-sustaining and animated by a public purpose, such as Mozilla (KL345-349); and the “B Corporation” designation requiring companies’ bylaws so that incentives favor long-term value and social impact instead of short-term economic gain (KL 350-352).

The trick, of course, is translating the general concepts into specific behaviors in our schools and organizations and businesses. We also need to be applying them at home, in the ways we raise children. Meanwhile, I’m feeling a bit smug about knowing I’ve been ahead of my time in at least a few ways that matter.


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