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Drive by Daniel Pink- Part I

November 19, 2011

As per my last post, I am writing as I read “Drive” because it is an entire book about motivation and how the gap between research findings and business practices are bringing the corporate economy down around our ears. Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but still. I will highlight the important concepts he mentions and explain them in as little detail as possible. After all, you should want to read the book yourself, not read the ‘cliff’s notes’ version here!

Part One explains Daniel’s concept of “A New Operating System”. This is where I will begin.

First, there are three drive’s that Daniel Pink observes. Drive 1: Biological Needs; this drive is the one which compels us to pursue food, water, shelter, company, and safety. This drive originates from within. Drive 2: Environmental Cues; this includes rewards and punishments from our surroundings as a result of our behaviors (whether it is a true connection, a perceived connection, or a designed and trained connection). This comes from without. Drive 3: Performance; this drive indicates that creatures act for the sheer enjoyment of acting. There is an “intrinsic reward (p.3)” to the action.

The take-away concept from Chapter one is this: “The way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad. (p. 17)” Pink is explaining that our current way of motivating employees and individuals is to use a ‘carrots and sticks’ procedure. We reward positive behaviors and punish the negative ones in order to design a better society. The problem with this system is that, as Pink demonstrates time and again throughout Part One, people continually perform worse when offered rewards and better when there is no material gain at all. If we are allowed to do something we are good at and we are not rewarded for it, it is perceived as playtime. If we must be rewarded, then we perceive that if we fail we are letting someone down; this leads to feeling like rewarded activities are work, instead of play. He later defines this concept as the “Sawyer Effect”. Can you see how “work” for rewards would get old really quick?

Now, here is a novel idea. If I could do what I love for the sheer enjoyment of it, and a paycheck just mysteriously showed up in my bank account every week…I would be okay with that. Work would never feel like play and I would only require recognition of my efforts occasionally.

I particularly like this bit from the second chapter:  “When rewards and punishments encounter our third drive, something akin to behavioral quantum mechanics seems to take over and strange things begin to happen. (p. 33)” To summarize, “if-then” rewards cause us to gain interest in the short-term and lose the inherent interest we had over the long-term. This is because we must forfeit some of our autonomy. Creativity is clearly more fun if you are allowed to be creative and not expected to perform while you are at it. Play is only play when no one cares but you.

I truly enjoy writing posts like this one because it gives me a chance to reflect on what I read and how it impacted me; but, I also get the chance to share it with you all.

When used incorrectly or excessively, carrots and sticks can cause “bad behavior, create addiction, and encourage short-term thinking at the expense of the long view. (p.49)” So, to recap:  carrots and sticks cause less of what is good and more of what is bad.

Pink also makes an effort to highlight situations where carrots and sticks can be helpful. Situations involving only mechanical skills (routine work), or minimal cognitive effort can be boosted by rewards. He says that if you offer a reward after the performance, it is perceived less as a reward and more as a gift of acknowledgement; therefore, it is less detrimental to the intrinsic motivation. Basically, non material rewards are best, but if they are necessary, only in unexpected and minimal ways.

There was a point when Pink said, ‘ to offer material rewards is to signal to the person that the task is undesirable’.

That, my friends is the end of Part One, I will return again to highlight Part Two! Stay Tuned and bring your friends!

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