Reflections on Daniel Pink’s “Drive”

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…

7 Comments

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  1. Jeff, I feel totally inadequate to comment on anything that pertains to creativity in the arts, so this may sound presumptuous. I was struck by the term “autonomy” in Pink’s list of conditions. Paradoxically, I believe true autonomy can be reached only when we are fully surrendered to God. Even Deepak Chopra, in his book, The Third Jesus, recognized that Jesus is unique in this respect. What Chopra did not seem to realize is that Jesus was totally obedient to God through the Holy Spirit. He was not a “self-made” man. With all his intellect and all his talent, do you suppose we would ever have heard of Paul, the apostle, if he had not surrendered everything to God?

  2. “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.”

    Jeff – Thank you for the insightful resource. I share your journey as an artist of faith, and am diligently seeking God’s face, looking to Him for my next “assignment”. As I “wait”, I work; studying, reading, praying, writing, and making meaning.

  3. Surrender to god? Sheesh, give it a rest. This is a book about the ability to motivate one’s self and achieve personal fulfilment, not to look for more external motivators like the guiding hand of some omnipresent being.

    • Jesus said, “If you are my disciple, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” There is a difference between being a slave to religious dogma and being set free in Christ.

      • You just quoted something pretty dogmatic to me: believe me and you will be free. Well, what kind of choice does that leave me? What if what you say doesn’t motivate me? But, hey, maybe you’re not a slave to that saying.

        I’m really not sure what that has to do about motivation theories anyway. I rarely meet well rounded people who are motivated by what god/jesus will or will not do to them. These reasons are usually used to excuse their actions that they choose not to claim ownership for. I take ownership for everything I do and everything that happens to me… it has set me free and motivates me daily. No guiding hand here.

  4. Hey, Patrick,

    Thanks for the conversation starter. I really enjoyed Pink’s book, but I saw not only as a resource for self-motivation, but also helping leaders understand that lots of things companies (and other organizations, including churches) do to motivate people aren’t really helpful. The really helpful piece for me was the idea that extrinsic motivators don’t do much good when people are working on complex, creative problems. It was big for me because I’ve spent a fair amount of time in different arenas trying to solve those kinds of creative problems without the right sorts of motivation. My bad, and dumb to boot. (Most of that revolved around my artistic work as a writer.)

    And I totally get where you’re coming from with the book not being about looking for “hand of God” types of extrinsic motivators. Point taken. My sense of interacting with God (and this is just me) is that it’s mostly intuitive and faith-based (duh) working in concert with stuff that’s actually going on, so that’s it a bit more like watching what’s going on and responding as best you can, somehow having faith that there’s more in play than just my agency and freedom. But from my point of view, the agency and freedom demands action and responsibility, and there’s where the intrinsic motivators have to come into play. Have to.

    As far as Christ goes, I think what my friend was getting at is that there’s great freedom in the receipt of love. I’m with you…most people of faith (and I are one) that move in really beautiful ways through the world aren’t motivated by what God might “do to them.” It’s in response to a love they (by faith) have received. And if you’ve ever been in love, you know that being loved can be a pretty big motivator. Maybe that’s how it plays to the conversation?

    Anyway, again, thanks for stopping by and joining in…

    Peace,

    Jeff

    • Thank you, Jeff. Patrick, being loved by God for who I am and not having to live up to what anyone else expects of me is a big part of the freedom I have found in Christ. Following him is like learning to walk. Every time I try I eventually fall, but he is there to pick me up and encourage me to try again. He never condemns me for my effort. He is grieved when I get discouraged and want to give up, but he has promised never to forsake me. He is stronger than I am, but he never tries to overpower me with his strength; instead, he woos me with his love. He rewards me when I seek him. Thank you for responding to my little note.

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