What makes us do what we do? What are the deeper motivations that keep us engaged in our life and work? Under what conditions do we learn, perform, and live at the highest levels of engagement and what some call “flow?”
Daniel Pink, in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has whacked me upside the head with a couple of ideas that have great promise for my thought and work processes moving forward. Pink’s basic premise is that carrots and sticks are limited as motivators, and that management that utilizes carrot-and-stick thinking to motivate people is rarely effective in creating high levels of engagement and mastery. He says that we need an “upgrade” in our motivational strategies, a new motivational operating system that takes into account much of the research of Mihaly Csikszcentmihalyi, the psychologist who wrote Flow and Creativity.
The ah-ha for me was a simple thought that I’ve known intuitively, but have had a hard time living out. It’s simply this: extrinsic rewards (“if-then”) do not work as motivators for complex, creative problems. In fact, extrinsic rewards (prizes, money, recognition) tend to not only torpedo the effectiveness of creative work, they tend to suck the very life out of them. In other words, work for money in creative life, and the joy and deep engagement that comes with such a life will leave you. Pink’s work shows this empirically, and I can vouch for the truth of the idea from personal experience. While base pay needs to be adequate, to work for greater rewards financially robs the work itself of both quality and joy.
There are three conditions, according to Pink, that make for the kind of work that is engaging, innovative, and impactful over time, producing high degrees of sustained flow. These are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It is no accident that these are three of the big ideas that have been circulating in my head over the past year or so, as I’ve thought long and hard about my values and the direction my work needs to go. In short, Drive is another call in the same direction as my last blog post, and reminds me of what Jesus said about children and the Kingdom of God. Unless we recapture something of the childlike as we follow him, we will not find the life that he came t0 free us toward.
Pink asserts that we were not meant to be inert and disengaged. He calls engagement and deep attention and fascination–in other words, flow–our “default setting” as we come out of the “factory” called birth. Having raised a couple of kids myself, I know exactly what he means.
I now have a broad sense of what I need to do to recapture some of the old fire, all the while heading toward the future, hunting down what God might have next.
It’s about learning, not performing…