Talking Motivation With Bestselling Author, Dan Pink

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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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12 responses

12 responses to “Talking Motivation With Bestselling Author, Dan Pink”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nick Usborne, Kristina Kettunen. Kristina Kettunen said: RT @jonathanfields Talking Motivation With Bestselling Author, Dan Pink | Jonathan Fields […]

  2. THANK!! These 2 questions will keep me on my toes. I love simple questions/quotes to get me on track. Great interview. Really got me thinking about my own ideas and artwork. The idea of mastery correlates nicely for me with the fact that I need to work on focus … seeing one project through to completion for a sense of satisfaction. Thanks again.

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by nickusborne: Excellent. RT @jonathanfields: Talking Motivation With Bestselling Author @DanielPink…

  4. Kelly says:

    Dan and Jonathan. Hot combination of great minds. I gave away many copies of A Whole New Mind to friends when it came out. It was life changing and entertaining to boot. This interview literally made my spine tingle, particularly the obvious (not so!) point about people collaborating for free in the open source environment (and blogging).

    We do what FEELS good. Right. That’s the motivation for us all. And if we keep moving towards this, our lives unfold. Funny how increasingly ‘new age’ thinking blends with hard research. This is going to be an amazing decade.

    Another inspiring book to add to my early 2010 ‘must read’ list.

    • Sean Aiken says:

      I agree – this is going to be an amazing decade!

      A shift to intrinsic as opposed to extrinsic motivators is simply one example of many positive changes to our collective mindset – an increased commitment to happiness, and a strengthening resilience to compromise.

      In this decade, we will see much of these beliefs actualize in both business, and our personal relationships.

      I’m excited!

  5. Brett says:

    Wow. This is a brilliant interview – how our brains work has always entranced me and motivation is particularly interesting to me.

    Kudos to you two – I’m going to order Drive from Amazon right now (and yes, Jonathan, I’m using the affiliate link provided). Good work deserves to be rewarded, I think. Or is that too Motivation 2.0 for you guys?

  6. J.D. Meier says:

    One of the best frames I’ve seen on explaining motivation in terms of job sat is from Rob Feldman:
    Skill variety
    Task identity
    Task significance

    It’s simple but revolves around making meaning, impact, and growth. The beauty is that it’s timeless (I think it’s from the 70’s or earlier.)

    The most important surprise for me in figuring out real motivation was “link it to good feelings.” I also didn’t realize how crucial it is that it’s changing state in the moment vs. after the fact (but that we can re-assign meaning, which can re-wire our thoughts which can re-wire our feelings.)

    Another big surprise for me was the interplay between will, self-discipline, motivation (pain/pleasure) and why you do what you do. I finally connected the dots and found that a little knowledge goes a long way, and what you don’t know can hurt you.

    Motivation is just too cool — knowing how to push your own buttons and be a self-starter and defeat learned helplessness is a crucial skill for the best of our lives.

  7. Dennis Leger says:

    About motivation. In real life in middle management, I worked for a tyrant who assumed no one was motivated. At all. Very old school, I guess.

    I was ordered to punish, to write up offenders so we would have the necessary documentation to fire them later. I was told I should punish mistakes, rule violations, errors in judgment, simple slip-ups. And of course, true intentional violations.

    I resisted. Big time. That’s another story.

    My belief was (is) that at work most people want to do well, want to be successful and want to be respected by peers and supervisors. In fact most workers know when they screw up, are sorry and try to avoid another mistake.

    As a supervisor, I continued to treat people with respect. They got the benefit of the doubt and unless it was a very serious problem, they got at least one pass.

    Motivation? Firefighters will perform heroically to satisfy their own need to succeed and to keep the respect of their supervisors. Dennis Leger, Crabbyoldrunner

  8. […] an interview with David Pink, , Jonathan Fields, asks about motivations styles of the different generations: Gen-X, Gen-Y, […]

  9. […] whole interview with author Dan Pink is great, but I particularly like the focus on intrinsic motivation, which in my eyes (as well as Pink’s, it seems) is far and away the best motivator of […]

  10. […] Fields posted a great interview about motivation with bestselling-author Dan Pink. Pink explains why intrinsic  motivation is the most effective […]

  11. […] Articolul original il puteti gasi accesand acest link. […]