Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

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This book is a quick read with an important message.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink has been a hot book this year. The core message is that carrot and stick approach to motivation is not only ineffective, but fails for knowledge workers. Using bonuses and performance metrics are best used for measurable repeatable tasks. I completely agree with the author’s thesis, because I learned this lesson in 2007.

In 2007, I decided to run a single Google ad on each page on INeedCoffee. Even though I had poured a lot of energy into the site and financed all the costs for 8 years at that point, I didn’t feel comfortable taking 100% of the revenue. So I got the idea that I would split the revenue with the contributors. Not only would this help me feel better about taking money on a hobby site, I thought it would encourage more people to contribute to the site. Now that they are getting some revenue, they would contribute more content to get even more.

It didn’t work out that way. In fact, it had the opposite effect. Once the recession hit, ad revenue dropped almost immediately. Just as soon as the writers got a little taste of Google money, it was cut in half. They stopped submitting new articles. Dan Pink would say that I replaced the intrinsic motivation of contributing to a fun established coffee site with the extrinsic motivation of receiving a few bucks. What was fun now had a (low) price on it. After 8 years of steady quality contributions, they stopped coming. The revenue sharing program was a disaster.

Author Dan Pink says that besides a paycheck, a worker needs 3 elements to be motivated.

  1. Autonomy – The ability to make decisions, find creative solutions, do tasks when they want to and not be micro-managed.
  2. Mastery – Getting better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose – Work must have meaning.

Over 3 years ago, in the post The Meaning of Work, I listed 4 ingredients for a good job.

  1. Professional Growth Building a TRANSFERABLE skill set is the most important thing a job can offer. If you arent growing, someone in another company somewhere is and theyll beat you out of some future job offer. Transferable means that you arent growing into their bureaucracy. You are learning skills that have value outside that company.
  2. Meaningful Work At the end of the day does the work you do have any meaning? Did you create something, help a customer or did you just occupy space in a department that had too much money to spend on personnel? Are you building bridges or playing bridge on Yahoo! Games?
  3. Management Nobody likes a bad manager. And Id add that hands-off management can often cultivate a culture of complacency. Lead, follow or get out of the way. Refusal to do all three defines bad management.
  4. Paycheck We work to eat. Living below your means and saving aggressively gives you the freedom to be the director of your own life. Living paycheck to paycheck is surrendering your freedom.

What I call Professional Growth, Dan Pink would call Mastery. Meaningful Work is the same as Purpose. Good management would fall under Autonomy. And a paycheck is a paycheck. I’d say Dan Pink and I agree.

Drive is an excellent book, with excellent resources in the back, including notes if you are short on time and can’t read the entire book. Besides the employee-employer relationship, Drive also provides tips to parents and educators on how to best motivate children.