Feb 032011


In Drive Daniel H Pink, a former political aide-turned author and lecturer, overturns the conventional notions that operate modern companies’ dealings with its people and debunks what we think are true regarding motivation and people management.

Much like a Malcolm Gladwell, who translates academia and science into layman’s terms for wider dissemination, Pink digests behavioural and management science from the last 50 years into a surprisingly effective essay regarding how to motivate human beings, which conventional and accepted ideas are gibberish and which actions are counter-effective. The book is interesting in its audacity and perhaps startling in both its conclusions and how so much that is so tested and known in some circles has not seeped into mainstream business. I say ‘perhaps’ because much of the contents is actually coherent and often what many of us have experienced and subconsciously identified, but never put quite found in one tome and in this way. Many managers, business owners or human resource professionals should prepare for a jolt judging by how seldom these ideas are practiced and, indeed, how often they are resisted. Apparently, much of the business world is still in the Dark Ages.

Speaking of which, Pink begins with definitions of Motivation 1.0 (early/basic man who seeks survival), moves to Motivation 2.0 (the carrot and stick model for reward and punishment) and his central theme of Motivation 3.0, which address intrinsic motivators for creative and non-routine work. Imagine how a reward could be a negative. Pink does! And when one thinks about the impossibility of that notion Pink pulls the example of volunteer-run success of Wikipedia versus the paid staffers of the deceased Encarta, which was previously a product of Microsoft. Perhaps Motivation 2.0 is increasingly irrelevant in the Western world. While routine and programmatic work can be outsourced, heuristic and non-routine work generally cannot. Since job growth in our circles is mostly from the latter carrots and sticks are a dangerously anachronistic paradigm that need to be severely reconsidered. As well as Pink explains the concept well; imagine the ways we have to go when imagining telling a sales manager to forego assigning a bonus/commission-based model to his or her salespeople. Unlikely, right? Pink seriously challenges that type of thinking. Adding rewards to pleasurable non-programmatic work has the opposite effect and indeed make the job unpleasant. Taking the extrinsic reward away renders the job pleasant in itself and gives it a sense of purpose and achievement. Pink will explain that financial incentives will make performance worse. Rewards, science shows, narrow the focus when the work calls for thinking and creativity and excitement. To be clear, he hesitates to render the same judgement for algorithmic work.
Having said that, Pink clearly elaborates and explains that ‘baseline rewards’ need to be sufficient for this model to work.

In the second part of Drive, Pink explains the three elements of true motivation. These are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. He then offers examples, actual case studies and techniques for unleashing these elements. Most managers and leaders prefer and seek Intrinsically motivated people (he calls them Type I) to Extrinsically motivated (type X) individuals. What if there was a template for unleashing the latter and harnessing the ensuing talent and energy? To be clear, Pink insists on fairness and equity being a prerequisite, but not as a form of carrots and stick rule. Going back to the three elements, Drive addresses the dominance of purpose over profit, specific goals over constant reward systems and giving people control over their work environments (including team-mates, work hours and tasks) as essential to motivation and success. Imagine it. Pink and many businesses did and the case studies are enlightening. The examples are there, but whether, as the book jacket proclaims Drive is “paradigm-shattering” depends on the dissemination and acceptance of the idea at the top echelon of the business and workforce entities. After all, Daniel Pink is telling sales managers, just to cite one example, to stop the commission-based system and to instead discover that the new hires have longer-term visions of their work. The news is that the message is hard to dismiss.

The book is padded with chapter summaries, conversation starters, an index and even a helpful glossary. This makes it a useful handbook on top of its exciting content. Having read it three times over the last several months, useful and exciting are certainly appropriate words here.

Challenging conventional wisdom could be termed Drive’s first and last word were it not for its drawing from actual academic studies and learnings.

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