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DRiVE: 3Q16 PM Book Club Review

DriveTitle: DRiVE – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Author: Daniel H. Pink
Year: 2009
PMEvolution.com Book Club Review: 3Q16
PM Evolution Amazon Store Ordering Link: DRiVE
TED Talk (18:36)

Daniel Pink, a lawyer and former speech writer for Al Gore, examines the puzzle of motivation. He starts with the fact that social scientists know that traditional rewards and threats of punishment aren’t always effective. However, most managers still use traditional rewards and threats of punishment in an effort to motivate workers. According to Pink, “There is mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” Pink argues instead of these extrinsic rewards such as money and promotions, that intrinsic rewards are much more motivating, especially for non-routine, creative work.

According to Pink,

“Carrots and Sticks are so last century. For 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”

Harry Harlow
The book begins with a description of a 1949 study of eight rhesus monkeys. Psychology professor Harry Harlow planned to test the use of rewards (i.e., food and water) on these monkeys for solving simple mechanical puzzles. The puzzles were basic devices that required the monkeys to follow three steps: first pull out a pin, then swing open a hook, and finally to open a hinged cover. Professor Harlow put these puzzles into the monkey cages for 14 days so the monkeys could become familiar with them. He was surprised that the monkeys began playing with the puzzles with “focus, determination, and what looked like enjoyment” and soon learned how to open the latch. This all occurred long before the introduction of external rewards. By the time Harlow tested the monkeys on days 13 and 14 of the experiment, the primates had become quite adept. They solved the puzzles frequently and quickly; two-thirds of the time they cracked the code in less than sixty seconds.

This surprised Harlow. Prior to that point in time, scientist knew of two main drives that powered behavior. The first was the biological drive of hunger and thirst. The second was rewards and punishments. However, these monkeys were motivated by something else.

Harlow wrote,

“The behavior obtained in this investigation poses some interesting questions for motivation theory, since significant learning was attained and efficient performance maintained without resort to special or extrinsic incentives.”

He concluded there is a third motivator, a third DRIVE. “The performance of the task,” he said, “provided intrinsic reward.” The monkeys solved the puzzles simply because they found it gratifying to solve puzzles. They enjoyed it. The joy of the task was its own reward.

Edward Deci
Two decades later, in 1969, Edward Deci, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, continued Harlow’s work. Deci studied students who were given wooden puzzles to solve. For the first group, he provided no monetary reward. This group completed the puzzles simply for the enjoyment. The second group was provided a small financial payment for each puzzle completed. The result was that the first group continued to find enjoyment from solving the puzzles. However, the second group lost this enjoyment. The payment, though small, changed the nature of the work. These students now completed the puzzles only if they received the pay. When the payment was taken away, the students did not continue solving puzzles for enjoyment. The payment had ruined the intrinsic motivation and had converted the puzzle games into a form of work.

The Candle Problem
Psychologist Karl Duncker, in the 1930’s, developed the candle problem. It is a problem solving puzzle that requires some creative thinking. Here is how it works. The researcher brings the subject into a room. The subject is given a candle, some matches and some thumb tacks. The objective is to attach the candle to the wall so that the wax does not drip on the table. Most subjects are able to solve the problem in about 5 or 10 minutes.

Years later, Sam Glucksberg, a Princeton researcher, expanded on this experiment to study the power of incentives. He divided the subjects into two groups. For the first, he timed how long it took to solve the problem to establish norms. For the second group, he offered a financial reward if they were able to solve the problem faster than other subjects. The subjects in the second group took an average of 3 1/2 minutes LONGER to solve the problem. The financial incentive had a negative effect on their performance!

But these results are contrary to the thinking of most managers. We are taught to believe that if you want people to work faster, you reward them we bonuses, higher pay, and the chance for promotions, etc. Not only are financial incentives not effective, they actually do harm. And these results have been replicated many times.

If-Then Rewards
If-Then Rewards (i.e., Carrots and Sticks) work very well for routine, well-defined tasks (so called 20th-century tasks). Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus and concentrate the mind. Based on studies completed at MIT and other universities, higher pay and bonuses resulted in better performance only if the task consisted of basic, mechanical skills. They worked for problems with a well-defined set of steps and a single answer.

Deci, Ryan, and Koesterman explain, “Rewards do not undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined.” (p. 60)

If-Then Rewards are not good for tasks that require creativity (so called 21st-century tasks). If the task involved cognitive skills, decision-making, creativity, or higher-order thinking, higher pay resulted in lower performance.

Dan Ariely and three colleagues studied a group of MIT students. They gave these students a series of games, games that involved creativity, motor skills, and concentration. They offered three levels of rewards for three levels of success. They found that “as long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.” But once the task called for “even rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward “led to poorer performance.” (p. 60)

Similar findings from students at the London School of Economics, “We find that financial incentives … can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

Today, work is becoming more right-brained and conceptual. And we need a new approach to motivating workers. Fortunately, scientists have found a better approach.

Three factors lead to better performance and personal satisfaction (Intrinsic Motivators): 

  1. Autonomy
    • The urge to direct our own lives.
    • ROWE – Results Only Work Environment — Completely flexible work schedule. Workers can work whenever and wherever they like, as long as they get their job done.
  2. Mastery
    • The desire to get better and better at something that matters, to improve our skills.
  3. Purpose
    • The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
    • People desire to do something that has meaning and is important. Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose end up with unhappy employees.

Pink gives another example of where the traditional rewards approach failed in the 21st century. In 1993 Microsoft created the MSN Encarta encyclopedia, which was well funded with paid researchers and editors. The encyclopedia was delivered on CD-ROMs. In 2000, Wikipedia created a free, online encyclopedia. But instead of hiring researchers and editors, Wikipedia relied on volunteers. In 2009, Microsoft pulled the plug on MSN Encarta. Why do people volunteer their time to post entries to Wikipedia? Because they enjoy it. As volunteers, they have complete autonomy over their time and their work and glad to be part of a higher purpose.

Other examples of open source successes include: Apache (the Web server), Python programming language, and Linux operating system. Talented people, who have full-time jobs in the tech field, volunteer up to 20-30 hours per week of their free time to help develop software that will be given away.


  • Which is better, “Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose” or “Carrots and Sticks”?
  • “There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”
  • Here is what science knows. Those 20th-century rewards that are a fundamental part of business do work, but in a very narrow band of circumstances.
  • Those “carrots and sticks” can kill creativity.
  • The secret to high performance in 21st-century jobs is not rewards and punishments, but is that unseen intrinsic drive of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Discussion Questions

  1. What techniques do you use to motivate your team members?
  2. How much autonomy can project team members reasonably have? How realistic is it to have project team who are “self-directed”?
  3. Are you more concerned with team member compliance? Or with team member engagement? Explain.
  4. To what extent do believe your team members wish to gain mastery over their work? How can you help your team achieve mastery?
  5. Does working for your company provide a sense of contributing to a higher purpose?
  6. How do your project team members find purpose in their work?
  7. Do you believe altruism can be an effective motivator?

Additional Reading:

  • “Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation,” by Edward Deci and Richard Flaste (1996)
  • “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being,” by Martin Seligman (2012)
  • “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol S. Dweck (2007)
  • “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2008)
  • “Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT,” by Paul Marciano (2010)
  • “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg (2014)
  • “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman (2013)
  • “Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement, 2nd Edition,” by Kenneth Thomas (2009)
  • “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Star, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes,” by Alfie Kohn (1999)
  • “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions,” by Dan Ariely (2010)

About mahaneyr

Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems School of Business Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, Kentucky

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