Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Reviewed on , book by Daniel H. Pink

Fine book. Take-away boils down to if-then rewards (operant conditioning)
working well for short-term, but poorly for long-term motivation. Any long-term
motivation must be intrinsic. Whenever you start rewarding with reward incentives, you run the risk of removing natural gravitation toward an activity, i.e. you pay your kid to mow the lawn once, and you’ll have to do it forever. Basic extrinsic rewards like pay, working conditions, and job security need to be at a level where you take the issue off the table — beyond that point, you no longer motivate people further this way. The main elements in an environment conducive of intrinsic motivation are: autonomy; you feel in charge of what you’re doing, relatedness; you feel what you’re working on is important and fits into a bigger picture, and mastery; you feel a sense of progress in a skill.

My main criticism of this book is that it’s dogmatic. I have a hard time trusting a book that doesn’t have a single scenario where extrinsic rewards can be useful. I’ve certainly seen that as a way to kick-start behaviour. You see people who donate blood for decades, who seem partly motivated by the ‘status symbol gifts’ you get at certain marks, e.g. 15 years. Isn’t this a form of long-term motivation by symbolic extrinsic rewards? Pinker also has this annoying habit of summarizing short chapters on extremely complicated topics in an overly bold my-ideas-explain-this-too way. Example: “So keep allowance and chores separate, and you just might get that trash can emptied. Even better, your kids will begin to learn the difference between principles and payoffs.”