Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: A Book Review

Pink, Daniel H. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Penguin Group. First edition. 270 pages. List price $16.00

Daniel H. Pink’s Drive, simply put, boils down to the notion of motivation. It chronicles the journey in popular (and not so popular) thinking through historical perspectives on what motivates us as individuals, employees, and supervisors. Pink categorizes the different types of motivation in terms of “operating systems.” He explains these operating systems as motivation 1.0 which seeks to take care of basic survival needs and motivation 2.0 which seeks to explain motivation as shaped by rewards and punishments, or “carrots and sticks.”

Pink introduces what he calls an “upgrade” to the 2.0 operating system and dubs it 2.1. This was based on the work of Abraham Maslow which was later translated into the business world via MIT management professor Douglas McGregor and former psychologist Frederick Herzberg. It seeks to explain motivation based on need fulfillment mechanisms like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and other job perks besides baseline pay. It is from this platform that he introduces motivation 3.0 which is based on the joy of problem-solving or intrinsic reward based performance and the concepts of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in work. Pink also introduces Type I behavior categorized as behavior developed out of intrinsic desires which are juxtaposed to Type X behavior that is central to extrinsic behavior shaped by carrots and sticks.

The primary argument of the book is that motivation 2.0 worked in the early days of labor due to the very nature of the work. As we became civilized, our labor was industrialized and unilateral, such as factory work which was algorithmic in nature. As we evolved and technology changed the way we connect and what we have access to, so too has the very nature of our work. We perform more solution driven work based on creative processes. Much of the early labor of our civilization is now being executed by computers leaving us with increasingly sophisticated decision making required to perform our work.

Pink emphasizes the struggle with what science is telling us about motivation and what business leaders have done for decades. Our old ways of doing business have produced success for such a long time that we are not ready to accept a change or take the leap of faith required to let employees be autonomous in their work. It is as if the carrot and stick regimen is ingrained so deeply it has brainwashed us to the “this is how things have always been done” thought process. This struggle between the extrinsic reward system (Type X) in motivation 2.0 and the intrinsic reward system (Type I) proposed by motivation 3.0 relates to model I and model II theories. In Model I, people feel that they must control the situation and manage without regard to other input, unilaterally. Model II works better in the motivation 3.0 centered environment due to high advocacy, inquiry, and regard to feelings and input components.

My initial impression of the book was positive. The author does a great job at selling the idea of a third drive in motivation. However, when I went back and reviewed it again, it came across a tad pop-psychology in nature. This could be attributed in part to the gut-reaction to a change in thinking so pervasive in the business world. Pink does a good job winding through the evolution in thought from the beginnings of theories in motivation from a psychological perspective, methods in use by businesses and examples of Avante Garde leaders. As I read Drive under more careful analysis, it felt like a quasi-literature review. The book provides many examples of the evolution of research and current thinking cloaked in an easy to read format that represents a push for a radical departure from the current way of “doing business.”

This content examination got me wondering, is Daniel H. Pink qualified to write a book clearly based in psychological principles? After a quick look at his website, I discovered that he has a B.A. from Northwestern and a J.D. from Yale. It appears that he is a pretty smart cookie. During the six years between his graduation from Yale and the time he quit his job to go out on his own, he worked in politics serving as an aide to the Secretary of Labor and then as Al Gore’s speechwriter. Since his departure from the political realm, he has written five books on business and management including Drive. Pink has also participated in numerous interviews, columns, and talks. Does this make him uniquely qualified to write a book about how to cultivate a change in employee motivation in the business world? Perhaps. But I wonder if he has been a manager or if he is writing this from the perspective like most of us, as the minion under the reign of terror from the proverbial playground bully we call our boss.

Pink’s background indeed created conditions that make him a good storyteller, and the positive energy and belief in his ideas do come to life on the pages. His flair for the dramatic is especially evident in the chapter on autonomy where he talks about humans pushing for more freedom. He quotes Richard Ryan as saying, “If we were just plastic like {some} people think, this wouldn’t be happening. But somebody stands in front of a tank in China”. The first time I read this paragraph I wanted to jump on the chair and pump my fist in the air. The second time I read it I thought it was ludicrous to compare the events of Tiananmen Square to employees “right” to demand more flexible work hours or an on-site cafeteria. At some point, the ideas surrounding Type I environments becomes less practical and more self-centered. Employees working in service industries such as retail or trades such as plumbing are accountable to the needs and demands of customers by the very nature of their work.

The themes in the book sound great on paper for an ever-changing fad conscious business world. Pink provides over a hundred examples to support his theories about what is wrong with carrots and sticks and what is right with autonomy in work. But could this utopia of fairness, praise, and employee-centered job satisfaction make it in the “real” world? Pink offers us examples of ROWE work environments, 20% time and Fed Ex days in companies like Atlassian, Google, and 3M where employees are encouraged to pursue meaningful work. And the results are impressive. But how does this type of motivation apply to some of the Mintzberg models that have guided business structure for decades? An adhocracy has motivation 3.0 and Type I written all over it. What about a machine bureaucracy, which is the principle structure of success for franchises like McDonald’s? Sure, McDonald’s reputation was not built on innovation in the burger and fry product line. But if motivation 3.0 seeks to explain human work behavior regarding happiness levels tied to autonomy over work and satisfaction in problem-solving how do we explain their sustained success? I think it would be helpful to see some examples of how motivation 3.0 and Type I influences work in factories and franchises and other situations where there is less room for flexibility and employee-centered heuristics.

Overall the book was very well written and engaging. Pink states the problem, offers a suggestion to overcome the problem and includes tools to implement the new way of thinking in the business and personal realms. The material was well distributed on the topics with a chapter devoted to the beginning experiments on motivation by Harry Harlow and Edward Deci which created the foundation for Pink to introduce his ideas on motivation operating systems. The next three chapters discuss how motivation came to be shaped by carrots and sticks. The section covers ways that they decrease motivation and some ways they are positively applicable to motivation. The remaining four chapters cover the elements (autonomy, mastery, purpose) that Pink believes compose motivation 3.0. He also includes a “toolkit” that allows you to try on Type I ideas for size in your personal life and work life.

With the inclusion of the of the toolkit and the blended scientific research paired with business anecdotes, it feels as if the intended audience should be supervisors or aspiring leaders. However,it is most likely to end up in the hands of the lowly subordinates who already loathe their jobs and bosses, and are day-dreaming for a “better way.” Of course, it did end up as an assignment in my Organizational Theory class, so there are at least 18 future leaders newly armed with material about how not to beat subordinates into submission with sticks and the promise of the occasional carrot.


Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: