What Motivates You? Lessons from “Drive” by Daniel Pink

I recently read the book “Drive” by Daniel H Pink (http://www.danpink.com/). While I’m not sure it’s going to “change how (I) think and transform how (I) live” as the dust jacket promises, there are a few things in there that made me think.

Traditional motivational theory talks about using carrots and sticks (usually in the form of monetary rewards and punishments) to get people to do what you want them to do, or stop them from doing things you don’t want them to do. While companies have used these motivators for a long time, Pink describes new research that indicates human motivation is a much more complex process. The “cocktail party summary” of the research to date is that human motivation actually has three parts, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy means that humans want to direct our own lives and have some say over what we are going to do. Perceived control is an important part of one’s happiness, but what people want control over varies – it may be the tasks they have to do, how they are going to accomplish those tasks, other people, and so on.

The second part is mastery – we all have the urge to get better and better at something that matters. Mastery of a task is an asymptote. You can get close, but you can never get there – there’s always some aspect that you could do at least a little better. But just getting close makes you want to get just a little bit closer…. There needs to be a match between what you must do and what you can do. You want your job to be challenging, but not impossible and not boring.

Finally, we are motivated by purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. We want to feel that our work matters, that we are contributing to making the world a better place. Some of the most interesting studies in this book had to do with artists. For example, independent studies of a variety of artwork showed that commissioned works were judged to be significantly less creative than non-commissioned works. Apparently, doing it for the money made the creative process less enjoyable and less creative. Studies also found that artists who were more intrinsically motivated were better able to weather the down times in their careers, continued to spend more time on their art than those who were financially motivated, and over time produced superior art. The very fact that they were doing it for love, and not for the money, is what brought the recognition (and money) to them in the end.

This may be a good time to stop and think about what motivates you, and how your current professional position is meeting those motivations. Are there parts of your job that are under your control, and are those the parts you want to control? Are there parts you truly enjoy, that you are actively striving to do better? And finally, do you have a sense of fulfillment that your current work is making the world a better place?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, figure out where the mismatch is, and what you need to change. Once your motivations are being reinforced by your environment, success is sure to follow.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

4 Responses to What Motivates You? Lessons from “Drive” by Daniel Pink

  1. […] blog linked to a post (https://acscareers.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/what-motivates-you-lessons-from-drive-by-daniel-pink/) on another blog that did a simple four-paragraph summary of a book about motivation. I imagine […]

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  3. Dan Steer says:

    Could it be that the fashionable spotlight on intrinsic motivation in the 21st century is in fact a lie designed to get us doing more for less?

    I interviewed Eliane Glaser, author of “Get Real” on this topic.
    You can read it here:


    What do you think?

  4. Fatima Lakes says:

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