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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us Paperback – April 5, 2011
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Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money--the carrot-and-stick approach. That's a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink in Drive. In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction--at work, at school, and at home--is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.
Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does-and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation--autonomy, mastery, and purpose--and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action in a unique book that will change how we think and transform how we live.
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The book has about 250 pages. One hundred fifty or so of those are for the basic content. It includes the Introduction and Parts I and II (chapters one through six).
The other hundred pages are a "Toolkit." This includes some material that didn't seem to fit anywhere else, a glossary, a recap of Drive, twenty conversation starters (useful at cocktail parties), a reading list, and a fitness plan. That's forty percent of the book. And none of it helps you put what you've read to work.
The core points of the book are covered in the TED talk. You can listen to it in about fifteen minutes or read it in about ten. You won't get the fitness plan or the conversation starters. You will get the essence of Pink's message.
If you're a boss or concerned about leadership, you need to become familiar with that message. The ideas are important. Pink's rendering of them, for good or ill, will define and influence the discussion of motivation in business for quite a while.
He does get the big picture right. He says that people would prefer activities where they can pursue three things.
Autonomy: People want to have control over their work.
Mastery: People want to get better at what they do.
Purpose: People want to be part of something that is bigger than they are.
This matches research that I've done with class members for over twenty-five years. They discuss a time when "it was great to come to work" and then create a description of what those times are like. The descriptions vary slightly in wording but always include the following.
Interesting and meaningful work.
Clear and reasonable expectations.
Frequent and usable feedback.
Maximum control possible over work life.
I'm describing the kinds of workplaces where intrinsic motivation happens. Pink is describing three things that provide that kind of motivation. In most highly effective workplaces, it's the boss that is the most important force creating an environment when intrinsic motivation can happen.
Top management sets the basic compensation and benefits structure. If that isn't perceived as fair and consistent, natural intrinsic motivation won't kick in.
It's your individual supervisor who has the biggest effect on your daily working environment. That's why there are pockets of excellence in otherwise horrid companies and why even the best companies have workers who are unhappy and teams that are unproductive.
This book won't give you the connection from concept to workplace. But Pink does deliver many key ideas that matter.
Key Idea: There is a difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Key Idea: Intrinsic motivators are more powerful.
Key Idea: If you use monetary rewards to get people to perform the way you want, those rewards may have the opposite effect.
These are important things for a boss to know, but if you only have Drive to guide you, you will get some things very wrong.
The examples that are used are heavily weighted toward academic and consulting studies. It's not apparent that Pink talked to a single worker or frontline supervisor. The book would have been more helpful if he had.
There are some pre-requisites to having intrinsic motivation kick in. Pink mentions in passing that there needs to be fair compensation in place. That's true, but it's not an "oh-by-the-way" point. It's Maslow's Hierarchy in work clothes.
Throughout the book, Pink equates "monetary" incentives with "extrinsic motivation." That ignores praise, promotion, preferment (in scheduling, eg), the admiration of peers, time off, and a host of other positive incentives. It also skews the discussion toward academic studies and away from the real workplace.
Pink also presents the issue as if it were intrinsic motivators (good) versus extrinsic motivators (not good). In the TED talk he even says "This is the titanic battle between these two approaches."
That's not how things work in the real world. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and their effects interact. You don't have a simple choice of which lever to pull. You have to understand and influence a complex system.
Those shortcomings are important. They derive from one of the most important things to understand if you've going to study this material critically and turn it to good use.
Pink has written this book like a political speech. He writes to make a point, not to present a balanced argument.
Like a good speech writer, Pink uses language that implies value judgments. He uses terms like "humanistic psychology" for things he agrees with. When he doesn't agree he uses terms like "rat-like seeking."
Like a good speech writer, Pink makes sweeping statements without providing support for them. "Sometimes" and "a surprisingly large proportion of the time" are used with no indication of what they actually mean. He says that sales quotas "can be effective," but doesn't tell you when or how often.
Like a good speech writer, Pink leaves out things that don't support his simplified message. There's no mention of studies that support the use of rewards in business settings.
Like a good speech writer, Pink boils his facts down to only the ones that support his argument. If all you read was Drive, you would think that the work of Deci and Ryan is about the superiority of intrinsic motivators to extrinsic in all situations.
But their work is more complex than Pink describes it. It includes analysis of effective extrinsic motivators as well as extrinsic motivators that are counter-productive.
Like a good speech writer, pink, picks up studies from one sphere and applies them elsewhere without telling you what he's doing. Deci and Ryan have done admirable and important work, but it's on motivation in personal development, not in the workplace.
Like a good speech writer, Pink ignores contradictions. He describes a horrid, slave ship workplace ruled by carrots and sticks. Later he mentions that most "flow" experiences happen at work.
Pink tells us about "20 percent" time for creativity at Google and Atlassian. But he doesn't discuss why they only offer their intrinsic reward of creativity to engineers and not the other workers in the company.
Like a good speech writer, Pink sets up the straw man of "Motivation 2.0" so that he's easy to knock down. And, inconvenient truths are sometimes mentioned in passing and then never heard from again.
The Bottom Line
You should learn what's in this book because, for better or worse, it is influencing the conversation about what makes a great workplace. But because of the presentation and selective use of facts, you can't rely on this book alone to help you do a better job as a boss.
The science in Drive is limited to a few small studies from the first part of the book, none particularly surprising or impressive, that show offering rewards sometimes reduces motivation and performance. Any business manager, teacher, parent, coach or human being knows that there are times to offer rewards, times to threaten punishment and times to let people alone to succeed or fail on their own. Admittedly it can be a delicate decision, and it's easy to get wrong, but no one believes that the best way to teach a class is to offer a lot of money to the top exam scorer, or to threaten to kill the bottom scorer. Yet this is the straw man Pink constantly tells us is the mindset of business, education, parenting and other pursuits.
The book moves on to profile some companies and academics who preach more radical versions of intrinsic-motivation-based organization. This is the best part of the book, it covers a range of interesting thinkers and the writing is engaging and precise. However the useful material makes up maybe a total of 20 pages, and the work is always contrasted to the mindless straw-man the author calls "Motivation 2.0," which washes out the nuances of the other thinkers. There is a long approving section on Friedman-Rosenman "Type A" behavior, a theory that is more often used to illustrate statistical fallacies in scientific research.
The rest of the book appears to be random padding. There are reviews of 15 other books, short accounts of six management gurus, a glossary with 14 entries, summaries of all the chapters in the book, a plan for physical fitness, suggestions on how to make posters, 20 questions to ask yourself and others about the book, plus other sections; none of which seem more than tangentially related to the subject.
Of all the padding, the most useless is the author's wacky theories about how to run a business. You are supposed to make sure everyone has baseline compensation that is both adequate and fair. But what of the people who don't show up, or who hurt the goals of the business? Fair compensation would be inadequate. And nice as it would be if no one were deprived, it's absurd to argue no one ever accomplished anything without having a guaranteed adequate baseline. But this is what Pink claims. This baseline is also supposed to equal what other people in similar jobs at other companies get. But if everyone is guaranteed average, no one can ever earn above average.
You will cringe at the suggestions of how to provide additional compensation, almost as much as at the author's examples of bad ways to do it. He seems unaware that all organizations make use of a nuanced variety of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Some businesses use quotas and numeric targets for bonuses, with good and bad results, and also add after-the-fact rewards like bonuses and raises not tied to specific criteria, intangible rewards like awards, titles and perks, and a variety of other techniques. Moreover, the author neglects the important topic of team, as opposed to individual, motivation.
This book is not of the quality of the author's previous works, and it is a spectacularly uninformed management handbook. We can hope that it is a rushed-to-print attempt to follow up on previous successes and aid the author's speaking career. In that case, when he puts more time and effort into future books, they may be worth reading. This one you can miss without loss.