I recently finished reading Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink. I’ve been a fan of Dan’s writing for over a decade. His bestselling book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, is probably the first widely read and accepted take on design thinking, and it’s required reading for an advanced MBA course I teach on creativity and innovation in organizations.
In his new book, Dan synthesizes reams of scientific research on human motivation and concludes that there’s a significant disconnect between what science knows and what business does.
I had the opportunity to ask Dan a handful of questions about Drive, and what he terms “Motivation 3.0.”
Question: What is Motivation 3.0 in a nutshell?
Answer: Running beneath our laws, economic arrangements, and business practices is a set a of assumptions and protocols about how the world works and how humans behave. We can think of this as akin to a computer operating system. And over time that operating system has changed.
Motivation 1.0 presumed that humans were biological creatures, struggling for survival. Motivation 2.0, its upgrade, presumed that humans responded mainly to rewards and punishments in their environment. Motivation 3.0, the upgrade that I think we need right now, presumes that humans also have a third drive—to learn, to create, and to better the world.
Question: Do you find that entrepreneurs and small business operators tend to reflect those elements more so than those working in big outfits?
Answer: Yes. In some ways ways these impulses define entrepreneurs. The very act of striking out on your own is an act of self-direction—of engagement rather than compliance. Entrepreneurs crave getting better at stuff. That’s mastery. And most entrepreneurs—or at least most effective entrepreneurs—are motivated not by the deep desire to get rich, but by some other purpose. As Steve Jobs said, they want to “put a dent in the universe.”
Question: You spent some time in Japan. What, if any, influence did that have on your understanding of intrinsic motivation?
Answer: Interesting question. Most of the conclusions in the book come from 40 or 50 years of behavioral science that seems to overturn many of the old orthodoxies about how we run businesses and navigate our careers. But being in Japan really helped me understand the drive for mastery. It’s a culture of quality and pride in craft—all the way to the smallest details. Japan also completely refutes the notion that the only way a restaurant can offer good service is if servers get tips.
Question: What is the real danger of an extrinsic motivation-only approach?
Answer: The big danger is that they don’t work very well for creative, conceptual tasks. If-Then motivators—“if you do this, then you’ll get that”—narrow our focus, For creativity, you want an expansive focus rather than a narrow one.
What’s more, If-Then motivators can also diminish intrinsic motivation, push people toward short-term thinking at the expense of the long-term, and even encourage unethical behavior.
That said, rewards provided non-contingently and after-the-fact—feedback, recognition, profit-sharing, etc.—are far less dangerous.
Question: What?’s the one thing you want your audience to do or take away from DRIVE?
Answer: That carrots and sticks can be effective, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. For enduring motivation, and high performance, autonomy, mastery, and purpose are much better.
There’s a mountain of science that shows that especially for creative, conceptual tasks, Motivation 3.0—which is centered around autonomy, mastery, and purpose—is a far better route to high performance.
Autonomy is the desire to direct our own lives. Mastery is the urge to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
I recommend putting Drive on your list of must-reads for 2010. To see Dan talking about Motivation 3.0, take a look at Dan’s recent TED talk.
Matthew E. May is the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. He blogs here. You can follow him on Twitter here.