Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

The main idea in Drive is about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Basically, intrinsic is better, and we’d all be better off if we ordered society in a way that allowed people to be led by our normal urges to learn, create, and achieve, rather than by the need to make money by spinning like a hamster in a wheel. Pink’s audience is primarily business leaders, who might actually have the ability to put some of these ideas into practice through making changes in the workplaces they manage. He does a good job of arguing that this would not only improve their employees’ job satisfaction, but thier company’s bottom line. It’s easy to agree with everything he writes.

I think the book would have been even more interesting if Pink had questioned why bosses and others in power try so hard to use extrinsic rewards to “motivate” people, in spite of evidence that it doesn’t really work. It’s really about power. It comes from distrust of and contempt for workers. Bosses don’t trust employees to work hard without a carrot or stick because they see them as inferior. So they try to use the power of the purse strings to make those who depend on that purse do what they want. On the other hand, their use of financial rewards is also an acknowlegement of their lack of power. Bosses rely on money to motivate because they have given up on having any impact on employees’ minds and hearts. They want to throw money at the problem of motivation because they feel that’s all they can do. The fact that external rewards don’t motivate us comes from our innate desire to resist when others try to blatantly exert power over us. I would have felt more satisfied if I saw this explanation in the book, but considering its intended audience, Pink probably feared to offend.

The style of this book’s writing suffers from gimmicky business-speak that’s not to my personal taste. There’s a created vocabulary that’s not really necessary, full of acronyms, trendy 1.0 versus 2.0 versus 3.0 distinctions, and concepts abbreviated for convenience, all repeated frequently so that the bored business traveler will better remember the ideas. When Pink is telling stories and quoting stats, he has a decent, clear nonfiction style, but the contrived invented vocabulary got annoying to me after a while.

Tomorrow, I’m going to write about the implications of this motivation research on teacher pay and evaluations.


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