Monday, March 12, 2018

Drive by Daniel Pink: A Review

Daniel Pink is a former law school graduate and speechwriter for Al Gore. After those experiences, he became an author and public speaker. His most well known work is Drive, a book about motivation.

Pink starts off by describing basic research about motivation. He references work that shows  monkeys can be motivated by intrinsic rewards, the satisfaction of completing a task itself. Introducing extrinsic rewards (food) reduced output, possibly by decreasing intrinsic motivation. Drive looks at:
1) flaws in reward/punishment systems
2) how organizations use autonomy, mastery, and purpose to progress
3) resources to help such behavior flourish

Pink defines hygiene factors as items which are necessary but not sufficient for satisfaction; their absence is negative, but their presence does not lead to job satisfaction. For example, lacking a good parking spot will be very frustrating, but having one does not create joy or loyalty to a particular role. The old framework of motivation is Motivation 1.0 is basic human needs (food, etc); 2.0 is seeking rewards avoiding penalty. This structure echoes Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. Pink argues for new system based on autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

All activity can be broken down into physiologically necessary, play or work. The first one is a requirement to live, so usually does not require motivation. Similarly, play by definition should be pleasurable and not require any focused effort. Therefore, motivation must be applied to something, which we usually call work.  Per Pink, algorithmic work can be outsourced or automated; artistic, empathic, non-routine work generally cannot.

At first blush, one would imagine that incentives would help people be more productive, by greasing the wheels of motivation. And in some domains, this works. Extrinsic rewards help narrow focus; good for algorithmic tasks. However, these same incentives can be self-defeating for creative/heuristic ones. They can also cause people to take too many shortcuts to meet an extrinsic goal. Non-tangible rewards (like praise) can be equally effective, and less corrosive over time.

As work has evolved, people look to get different things out of the work they do. Management systems are antiquated. Pink refers back to his three main concepts: Autonomy requires self control over task, time, technique, and team. Mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose is finding work worth doing.

In the latter part of the book, Pink leans heavily on the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( a future post will cover his book Flow). The idea of a flow or autotelic state is one of working towards a self-defined purpose. Personally, running serves that purpose. I find fulfillment when I run, independent of an extrinsic motivation. Pink notes that flow works best for Goldilocks tasks: tasks that are not too simple nor too difficult, but repeatedly reaching a flow state is a key to mastery.

Pink's Three Laws of Mastery are:
1. Mindset (growth)
2. Effort (pain/grit)
3. Asymptotic (never fully achieved)

Pink ends by quoting Csikszentmihalyi: "One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself." Overall, the message is the book is well-taken, but it serves more as a summation of others' work rather than original thinking or research on the part of Pink. This still has value, similar to Malcolm Gladwell's ability to distill concepts in a way that reaches a broader swath of people, but if you have time, I encourage you to read the books by the primary researchers like Csikszentmihalyi and Dweck to get more out of the exercise.


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