Daniel Pink on Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

I just finished reading Daniel H. Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The point of the book may be summed up by Pink’s tweet: “Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.” (p 203). Drive is an easy read, thoughtful and quite engaging. Pink is fascinated by the processes, cultures, and people that power successful leading-edge organizations’ work in the 21st century, especially those in technology corridors. In Drive, he has done a fine job of researching these organizations and telling a compelling story about why they have so spectacularly changed the way we do business – and our world.

There is a helpful chapter-by-chapter summary of the book at the back (Part 3). The book’s introduction alone is worth the price of the book. Alternatively, you may wish to listen to the book’s main points in Pink’s Ted Talk here. You may also be entertained by this affecting YouTube video about the book. The book is divided into three parts; it effectively ends half-way after Part 2 and the next half, Part 3 seems devoted to fillers – sample exercises, bibliographies, a long index, extensive notes, acknowledgements, etc. Part 3 also houses Type I for Parents and Educators: Ten Ideas for Helping Our Kids, the part that would pique the interest of educators the most, perhaps be the weakest section of the book. Here Pink aligns Drive with Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, and the reader gets the sense that the book is being aggressively marketed as a companion piece to Mindset.

Alignment with the work. Drive is the second book I have read lately on what motivates individuals, the first being Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Dweck’s views in Mindset especially with regards to praising children are being embraced by many school districts in America as this Washington Post article shows. These books are becoming part of a conversation about how best to teach children in today’s classroom as instructional and political leaders worry about academic performance. Effective teaching and great teachers were on President Obama’s mind. In his 2012 State of the Union speech: “Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones,” he said. “In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making.” Obama has also advocated increasing the drop-out age to eighteen and many jurisdictions are under pressure to adopt initiatives and bold reforms to enhance the academic performance of minority children.

Alyson Klein, writing on Edweek (January 24, 2012) Obama Wants Lower College Costs, Higher Dropout Age says this about Obama’s vision: “…Obama wants to create a new competitive program that will challenge states and districts to work with their teachers and unions to comprehensively reform the teaching profession. This new competition seems to be a twist on and an expansion of the existing Teacher Incentive Fund. It would seek to: reform colleges of education and make these schools more selective; create new career ladders for teachers to become more effective, and ensure that earnings are tied more closely to performance; and, establish more leadership roles and responsibilities for teachers in running schools. The competition would also seek to improve professional development and time for collaboration among teachers; create evaluation systems based on multiple measures, rather than just test scores; and, reshape tenure to raise the bar, protect good teachers, and promote accountability.” So, the book comes at a time when educational leaders are examining initiatives from the merely boutique to a grand vision that revamps the K-12 paradigm in favor of cradle-14 instruction.

Understanding the inner person. The book’s central point is that human beings are divided into two types, Type X, motivated by extrinsic rewards (pay raises, etc.) and Type I, motivated by intrinsic rewards that are innate and not easily quantifiable. For example, Wikipedia is sustained by an army of unpaid volunteers who toil daily to create what is today an incredible resource, without worrying about the need for external rewards. Similarly there is the miracle of technology enthusiasts improving upon open-source products like Linux and Mozilla’s Firefox – for free. Pink says understanding what motivates these individuals may be key to unlocking the best work culture in the 21st century.

Drive starts out on an optimistic note: “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” (Kindle Locations 985-987). Pink maps and historicizes the world of work around business operating systems or “motivations” thus: “Motivation 1.0 presumed that humans were biological creatures, struggling for survival. Motivation 2.0 presumed that humans also responded to rewards and punishments in their environment. Motivation 3.0, the upgrade we now need, presumes that humans also have a third drive—to learn, to create, and to better the world.” (Kindle Locations 2886-2890)

Pink asserts that humans crave Autonomy, needing to be in charge of one’s life; Mastery or constant improvement; and Purpose, hoping to make a sense of one’s life through altruism. According to him, 21st century institutions need Motivation 3.0 and people with Type I behavior for success: “The Motivation 3.0 operating system—the upgrade that’s needed to meet the new realities of how we organize, think about, and do what we do—depends on what I call Type I behavior. Type I behavior is fueled more by intrinsic desires than extrinsic ones. It concerns itself less with the external rewards to which an activity leads and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself. At the center of Type X behavior is the second drive. At the center of Type I behavior is the third drive. If we want to strengthen our organizations, get beyond our decade of underachievement, and address the inchoate sense that something’s gone wrong in our businesses, our lives, and our world, we need to move from Type X to Type I.” (Kindle Locations 1047-1053).”

Like Dweck’s Mindset, the book is chockfull of suggestions for turning your regular Type X worker bee into a Type I worker; some of them counter-culture and bound to be controversial. Pink advocates also praising workers and presumably children for “effort and strategy” rather than for “achieving a particular outcome.” From Early Man, the world has always valorized achievement (aka the Super Bowl). In addition, cultural norms in individual homes and communities would require wholesale revamping. My experience as a parent has been that in America’s classrooms, each unique strand of intelligence (and achievement) needs to be recognized and valorized.

Drive and equity. Interestingly, Pink mentions the term “diversity” just once in the book. And it is to explore his ambivalence about affirmative action programs in the workplace. He is not a fan of mandated affirmative action; instead he advocates allowing institutions to voluntarily diversify the workplace without the burden of mandated goals. In his view, these goals end up being ceilings instead of floor. He is of the view that we should believe in the good of individuals and institutions who would want to voluntarily diversify their organizations. “Imagine an organization, for example, that believes in affirmative action—one that wants to make the world a better place by creating a more diverse workforce. By reducing ethics to a checklist, suddenly affirmative action is just a bunch of requirements that the organization must meet to show that it isn’t discriminating. Now the organization isn’t focused on affirmatively pursuing diversity but rather on making sure that all the boxes are checked off to show that what it did is OK (and so it won’t get sued). Before, its workers had an intrinsic motivation to do the right thing, but now they have an extrinsic motivation to make sure that the company doesn’t get sued or fined.” (Kindle Locations 1902-1910). Pink’s view is an interesting one; many would argue that without state interventions, America would still have separate and unequal schools today.

Pink also advocates encouraging organizations to form self-selected teams in which workers are able to choose potential fellow workers who would best fit their culture, etc. in order to maximize chemistry and productivity. He uses Whole Foods and several leading-edge companies as examples:  This would make sense in a homogenous society. In a diverse community, determining what it means to be a team member would be a more complicated undertaking.

Drive and the classroom. I would have loved a more comprehensive analysis of the American educational system using his ideas and the numerous examples of high- performing instructional programs and organizations he cites in Part 3. That section is a good compilation of several boutique schools programs and initiatives that could have used a well thought out essay connecting all their eclectic dots.  Are there schools in high-impact neighborhoods that excel? If so, what can we learn from them? How can educators identify and showcase home grown, high-performing schools in high- impact schools? What does Pink think about the state of public education today in America? Pink may wish to continue what he started by partnering with educational experts to further flesh out the thoughts in that section.  Kevin Brookhouser has a useful review here in which he shares results of applying some of Pink’s ideas in his classroom. Also helpful is this  blog post by Larry Fliegelman titled “19 Top Ideas for Education in Drive by Daniel Pink.”

Pink says that people should be appropriately compensated, but that most people are motivated more by intrinsic rewards. He calls this the Tom Sawyer effect; make a chore seem pleasurable and people would want to do it. Many teachers would disagree with Pink according to a recent job satisfaction survey reported by the Washington Examiner here. In that survey, a majority of Fairfax County teachers say their job satisfaction depends on their paychecks.

What next? Advances in computer technology are perhaps the most important drivers for how the classroom and the world of work are (going to be) organized. The book forces the reader to reflect on the muscular force of the Internet and emerging ether-worlds (social media networks) in shaping cultures and attitudes everywhere. What should the classroom, the work place look like today? In 5 years? 10? Institutional, local, state, and federal statutes and attitudes are behind the times and are weighty constraints in the ability of visionaries to reform entrenched bureaucracies. Local, state, and federal statutes and mandates may stifle creative and innovative initiatives. Perhaps the conversations should include a review of these constraints or variables.

Finally, the big “M” in the room is the Mystery of the being that makes the outcomes of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose different and unique for each human being. We will never understand the mystery of Steve Jobs and the burden of the gift that enabled him to change the world in such a muscular and profound manner. Indeed, for most of his adult life, in his reflections, Jobs sought to make sense of the spirituality behind his gift which seemed sometimes to be a burden. Many years from now, perhaps every child would have a customized individual education plan that reflects his or her gifts – and potential. I do applaud Daniel Pink for providing a platform in Drive to allow instructional leaders to reflect upon ways to best meet the instructional needs of the new students that we see in our classrooms. They live in a different world than what today’s schools were built for. Pink’s book should inspire educational leaders to look in the eyes of every child, every adult in the classroom and ask: “How can I help you use your innate gifts to be successful?”

3 thoughts on “Daniel Pink on Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

  1. This sounds like a really interesting book, especially these days. He definitely discusses topics of importance we are seeing in the news often. I can’t help but disagree on affirmative action though – if it were all about people just doing the right thing themselves with no government intervention, things would be a lot better than they currently are!

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