Back in 2006, former Al Gore speechwriter, Dan Pink, burst into the public consciousness with his runaway New York Times bestseller, A Whole New Mind. That book was an extraordinary look at the impact and importance of creative work and “right brain” thinking.
Now, Dan has circled back around to explore another equally fascinating aspect of what makes us tick. In his latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink examines what makes us take action, what stops us dead in our tracks and debunks a bunch of myths along the way.
After reading the book, I had a chance to dive a bit deeper with Dan.
Here is what went down…
JF: Drive is a fascinating exploration of motivational theory and implementation, what motivated YOU to write Drive?
DP: After I wrote A WHOLE NEW MIND — about the shift from “left-brain” abilities to “right-brain” ones — lots of people asked me how to motivate people to do this sort of work. I didn’t have a clue. So I began looking at what turned out to be an absolute treasure trove of research — about 40 years’ worth — on human motivation. And the answers I found were surprising. Very surprising.
JF: You write about our motivational operating systems and how we’ve gone from Motivation 1.0 (survival-based) to 2.0 (reward & punishment), but now those systems don’t seem to be working nearly as well as they used to. What’s changed? Why isn’t the carrot and stick working as well any more?
DP: Motivation 2.0 — that operating system centered around carrots and sticks — is becoming incompatible with how we work and live. For instance, it has no account for something like open-source software, where people work for free and give away their product. In fact, Motivation 2.0 says it shouldn’t even be possible. Yet Wikipedia is the most popular encyclopedia in the world, most corporate servers are running Linux, and millions of people are blogging and collaborating for no direct economic return.
Also, Motivation 2.0 presumes we’re all wealth-maximizing economic robots — when, in fact, behavioral economics has seriously discredited that whole idea. Meanwhile, fewer of us are doing simple, routine, rule-based work — turning a screw on an assembly line or tabulating rows of figures — and more of us are doing non-routine, conceptual, creative work. The science is overwhelmingly clear that for creative tasks, carrots and sticks rarely work and often do harm.
JF: Are there still times where a carrot and stick do work?
DP: Sure. Carrots and sticks often work great in the short-term. That’s part of what fakes us out. Pay a kid to read books — and she’ll read loads of books at first. The problem is that you’ve crushed any deeper desire to read because you’ve equated reading with working at McDonald’s — something only a chump would do without getting paid. Also, “If-then” motivators — “If you do this, then you get that” — work pretty well for simple, routine, rule-based tasks. But as I’ve mentioned, they’re generally terrible for complex, conceptual challenges.
JF: In Drive, you share how research points to intrinsic rewards as the motivator of choice for the next generation, lending the name Motivation 3.0. What is intrinsic motivation and why is it so much more effective?
DP: It’s essentially doing something for its own reward. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to get paid. (Believe me: I cash my royalty checks!) But if the only reason somebody is doing something is for the money, chances are they’re not doing it all that well. That hurts the organization — and, more important, limits the individual.
JF: Is it possible to blend intrinsic motivation and the good old carrot and stick? What happens when you do?
DP: Yes, but it’s tricky. Let’s talk about three different kinds of rewards. The first is “baseline rewards” — salary, contract payments, benefits and a few perks that represent the floor of compensation. If those are inadequate or unfair, there won’t be motivation. Period. But once that’s satisfied, two very different approaches remain.
One is those “If-then” rewards. They can be dangerous, as I explain in chapter 2. But there are also “now that” rewards — “Now that you’ve done such a great job, here’s some recognition or a bonus or praise or feedback.” Those are less dangerous. Of course, being a nerd, I have flow chart on page 69 to help folks determine which rewards to use and when.
JF: As you mention in Drive, corporations and organizations tend to focus largely on external rewards to motivate work. If the research is so strongly against this, why is this approach still so prevalent?
DP: It’s a few things. One is that this is how we always have done things. And both people and organizations tend to think the status quo is somehow “natural” and that change is weird and dangerous. Another is that external rewards are easy. They’re easy to structure, easy to implement, easy to measure. Intrinsic rewards are a lot tougher. And the third, as I’ve mentioned, is that they often work in the short-term — almost like a sugar rush “works” in the short-term. The good news is that there are now legions of examples of companies taking a different approach — and showing big results.
JF: In her book “Mindset,” Professor Carol Dweck wrote about how we tend to approach the world from either a fixed (success is talent-born) or growth (success is work-born) mindset. And, her research showed how growth mindset kids were not only more successful in life, but more content. She also revealed how each can be installed either with or without intention. How does the impact of growth and fixed mindsets play into Motivation 3.0?
DP: Dweck’s work is amazing And I actually think her hard-core academic stuff is even more powerful than her excellent popular book, Mindset. She matters hugely because one of the key elements of this new approach to motivation is mastery — the desire to get better and better at something that matters. It’s pretty much impossible to do that if you believe that talent and ability are fixed. Without a growth mindset, there’s no mastery. Without mastery, true motivation is impoverished or perhaps even impossible.
JF: You write about the importance of autonomy, engagement, purpose and mastery as critical elements of Motivation 3.0. The first three words are bandied about a lot by Gen Y, but not so much by Gen X, who tend focus more on mastery and money. And, then there are the Boomers who seem to be circling back to purpose. What gives? Is Motivation 3.0 more relevant to Gen Y? Are they just more aware of the need for autonomy and engagement? Do they just expect it more? Are we in for a Gen X backlash?
DP: No, I think this transcends generations. Maybe it simply expresses itself differently in each generation. I mean, sheez, if Gen X means those born between 1961 and 1981, then I’m a Gen-Xer. So is, gulp, the President of the United States. I like to think we’re both Motivation 3.0 kind of guys! But I agree that Boomers are definitely circling back to Purpose in a big way. That’s huge.
JF: Toward the end of Drive, you include a section entitled the Type I Toolkit, which is a tremendous implementation resource for both businesses and individuals. Why was it so important to have this in the book?
DP: I try to write the sorts of books I want to read. Big idea books are great — but too often the writers don’t deign to give us any advice on what we should actually *do*. Self-help books can be useful — but too often they merely exhort and don’t anchor the advice in anything substantive. I’m trying to do both: A book that is animated by a big idea and that gives readers a new way to see their world — but that also offers some tools and tips to help them transform their lives.
JF: You spend a solid third of your acknowledgments talking about your wife and kids. I’m a husband, dad and author, too. When I write, I often wonder how what I’m writing might affect my wife and daughter along the road, whether it’s pure and valuable enough to either serve as a guide or make them proud. I wonder if you share in a similar sense of expectation or desire, to have your creation hit home with them?
DP: That’s a really interesting question. I think what I do might — might — help my kids in three regards. First, I work at home — so I see them a lot more than if I were commuting to an office. Second, they see me doing something I enjoy — which I hope shows them that doing work you love is a big component of a satisfying life. Third, they see an outcome — a physical book — which might help them understand why I’m sometimes gone or unavailable. But in general, I’ve discovered that I need my kids much more than they need me.
I’ve always been fascinated with the art and science of motivation (beyond fluffy feel-good mumbo jumbo). So, it was great to be able to dive into something that integrated hard science and real-world application with the ever evolving psychology of what makes us act. Giant thanks to Dan for setting aside some time to get real with me.
Check out Dan’s new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It’s a fast, enjoyable, illuminating and more important, actionable read.
[Disclosure: I was given a free review copy and the book and the links in this post are aff links, so if you all buy the book, not only will you become more motivated, I'll potentially earn enough money to finally buy that G5 private jet and hang out with Richard Branson on Necker Island. Either that, or it'll pay for half of tomorrow's latte. lol!]
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