Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Review: 'Drive' by Daniel H. Pink

"And if the men should drive them hard one day, all the flock will die." -- Genesis 33:13

Dan Pink has done his usual fine work in Drive by:

1. Identifying the relevant scientific research
2. Turning the findings into brief, reader-friendly material
3. Simplifying the key points into a few principles to remember
4. Comparing and contrasting those points with what prevailing practices are in larger organizations

If you are already familiar with the literature of creative motivation, you won't find anything new here. If you don't read that literature, Mr. Pink will take you to where you should want to go with a minimum of time and effort on your part.

The key point is that people respond to more than money in getting their work done. And the more you need someone to use all their resources, the more money becomes a hurdle to success rather than an aid . . . by narrowing focus too much.

Here's a personal example that I remember well that shows the same point. As a poverty-stricken undergraduate, I never saw a psychology experiment that I didn't want to participate in . . . as long as it paid. One such experiment involved memorizing some nonsense material over a series of sessions. I could usually do it relatively quickly. One night my girl friend was in a big rush to go out, but I needed to get paid by the experimenters before I could afford to take her out. I decided I would try much harder than usual so I could get done faster and be on my way with the money. Wrong! I thought I was never going to finish that experiment. The harder I tried, the worse I did. The experimenter was obviously astonished by all the trouble I was having. I'm sure I messed up that set of results for some graduate student.

I've also seen this problem occur where company executives have an opportunity to gain undreamed-of wealth. They get so focused on the money that they don't see anything else, and they make a lot of mistakes that they wouldn't if little money were involved.

As well documented as these points are, don't expect Wall Street banks and automotive companies to quickly switch over to encouraging autonomy, mastery, and purpose instead of paying big salaries and bonuses. Carrots and sticks involving money are in place because they pay well for those on the receiving end . . . not because they reward shareholders well.

The key problem with drawing all your lessons about motivation from this book is that the number of applications to work environments that have been well studied scientifically is pretty limited. My research suggests that there are lots of important motivating factors for doing good work that exist in addition to autonomy, mastery, and purpose. For instance, most workers tell you that they don't have the resources they need to do a good job . . . and that discourages them. In addition, most workers don't feel respected by those who are in charge of their work . . . which also discourages them. If you want a longer list, read Dilbert or visit someone in a cubicle. And those are just removing negative influences. There are other positive influences as well, including being faithful to God, expressing love to others, and being loyal to friends.

You also have to address whether the most important management task is to make everyone more motivated so that they produce more . . . or to make a few people effective in creating astonishingly large improvements that ordinary people can learn to implement. My work suggests the latter route is the way to go. Most people would choose the former route.

However deep you plan to delve into this subject, Drive is a good starting point if you are new to thinking about how to encourage people to accomplish more.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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