Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates US – A Book Review

Lets be honest, I’m a Dan Pink fan. I read Free Agent Nation in 2005 and have absorbed his work since. So when I found out Drive was coming to bookshelves I had already made up my mind to do a review.

Summary Review: Are you a student of the history of business? Agriculture employment moved to industrialization, which spawned manufacturing employment. Standardization and specification divided the labor into particular instructions. Robots (technology) soon followed and along came the knowledge worker. Drive is a manual for those that want to understand how to transition from a motivation structure established for work based on algorithms, “if-thens”, to a motivation structure that is effective for a heauristic economy. 

Dan Pink, in this quick read, describes how money is a factor in motivation, but it’s pretty low on the list. Above it are intrinsic motivations: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Every individual waffles between being externally motivated – money – and intrinsically motivated. Through Pink’s narrative is a description of Results Only Work Environments (ROWE), 20% time, and other ways for managers to consider if their goal is to improve the ambitions of their colleagues.

I recommend this book to only people with an open mind. You have to first contemplate if we are in a transformative time in business. If you believe we are, then this book is a valuable asset. Motivation 3.0.

Detailed Review: Drive is a synonym for motivation. The philosophical side of me says that it’s why we get off the couch; it’s an attempt to give meaning to life – to make some sort of difference. I write it about it throughout this blog quite frequently so I was excited to read another book on the subject.

Unless you live isolated on the side of a mountain or own your own private island it’s a good chance you depend on others for something in this world. Throughout each day you practice some type of interaction with people. Sometimes you are the one asking and other times you are being asked. This requires influence. Understanding why others, and yourself, are inspired to action is advantageous.

Early in the book Pink establishes that values are changing. He cites the existence of entities called low-profit limited liability corporations as an example that people aren’t slaves to the all mighty dollar. But he also realizes that this isn’t an all or nothing proposition either. Money, and other external motivators, are useful in capitalism and very powerful, but there are possible downsides as well. On page 69 is excellent flow chart that breaks down when rewards are worthwhile. He works in some examples of how goals should be defined by the people that want to accomplish them and not some sort of sham of “my goals are your goals” corporate speak.

The next portion of the book gets into “flow.” The Ah-ha moment I hit on occasionally in this blog. Pink highlights some work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and calls it the Goldilocks tasks – work that is neither too hot (easy) nor too cold (hard). When your workforce is consistently in this environment much more intellectual effort is exerted. And this gets into aspects of the mind. On page 124 Pink cites a finding from the West Point Army Academy on success. Here is an excerpt:

The best predictor of success the researchers found was the prospective cadets’ ratings on a noncognitive, nonphysical trait known as “grit” – defined as “perseverance and passion for long term goals.”

To have the mental fortitude to persevere through failures requires a true commitment to long term goals. Doing your best for countless hours of practice and still not being the best is heart breaking. But to gain mastery, you must accept pain and respond with resiliency.

And here is where my criticism sneaks in. The book is a little short of material. I have a desired book length of about 180 pages. But most stretch until about 225 or so. I’d say this book is about 150 pages of insight and 65 pages of workbook activities to apply the ideas. I want more insight.

The book ends by observing children. And although seemingly obvious, kids are constantly looking for flow (the ah-ha). They don’t need any reason to play. Playing is it’s own reward.


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