The subtitle of Dan Pink’s latest bestseller, Drive, is “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. After having read this riveting and timely book, I don’t know that Pink’s truths are “surprising” so much as they are “surprisingly disregarded with age”. At an early stage in our lives, we all know inherently (and naturally gravitate towards) that which motivates us. Drive is sharp reminder of that which we appear to have forgotten. Here’s the theory:
We have three basic levels of motivation. The first level is biological – the innate desire for food, shelter, safety and ability to procreate. If you’re reading this summary, you don’t want for any of the first level motivation factors (and yes, let’s leave procreation alone for the purposes of this article). The second level, or “Motivation 2.0” as Pink labels it, is the “carrot or the stick” philosophy we’ve all been privy to in the corporate world over the last 30+ years. Motivation 2.0 worked pretty well it turns out. So long as we knew exactly what we needed to do, and how to do it, “carrot or stick” incentive gave us a little extra push and had us working a little harder in the desired direction. But something’s changed.
Algorithmic activities are those that are clearly laid out for us: same, repetitive tasks = same, repetitive results. (Think of the process for cooking a McDonald’s Big Mac as an example.)
Heuristic activities, on the other hand, are those that require creative thought and ingenuity. (A consultant is the stereotypical Heuristic worker.) [Revisit The Design of Business summary for a more detailed exploration of the two terms.]
“The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates that in the United States, only 30 percent of job growth now comes from algorithmic work, while 70 percent comes from heuristic work.”
Drive, page 30
Here’s the problem: While Motivation 2.0 can be effective with algorithmic work, it has been proven repeatedly to not only be ineffective, but actually detrimental when used to encourage heuristic work. Luckily, drawing from behavioural scientists of the last 40 years, Pink has identified a third drive – one that excels at encouraging heuristic activity. Pink calls it Motivation 3.0 or, the Third Drive.
Motivation 3.0 and Flow
"Perhaps management isn’t responding to our supposedly natural state of passive inertia. Perhaps management is one of the forces that’s switching our default setting and producing that state."
If Motivation 2.0 is about extrinsic motivation (do this, and we’ll give you that), then Motivation
3.0 is about intrinsic motivation (where completing the task is the reward).
Motivation 2.0 runs under the false assumption that without outside prodding and “management” we would never do anything. We’d avoid work at all costs and cut corners wherever possible. You need only watch children at play for five minutes to realize this is complete and utter nonsense. We are naturally inquisitive. We come into this world pre-wired to want to build and create to the best of our abilities. (The folks at Lego have built an empire around this understanding.) The task for corporations (and managers everywhere) then is not how to “get people to do things”, but how to harness the natural, internal motivation we all have to be a part of creating something great.
As Pink explains, there are three key factors for Motivation 3.0 to thrive: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. In other words, you need some freedom in how you complete a task, you need to be working on tasks that consistently challenge you, and you need to believe that the work you’re doing is making a difference in the world.
Pink believes, as I do, that when you’re able to mix autonomy, mastery and purpose into your work, you can quite easily enter a state of “flow” – one where time stands still and you become completely ensconced in your work. You probably know what I’m talking about, but when was the last time you experienced it? Children live in this state every day. And so can we, if we can just work a little Motivation 3.0 back into our lives.
Choose Your Autonomy
"Autonomy, as they see it, is different from independence. It’s not the rugged, go-it-alone, rely- on-nobody individualism of the American cowboy."
While being told exactly what to do, how to do it, when to do it and who to do it with might be the recipe for maximizing efficiency on an assembly line, it’s about the most stifling thing I can imagine for tasks that require creativity, innovation and imagination. When we talk about “autonomy”, the four aspects of your work that we’re considering are:
Time: Which hours of the day you put towards a task (and how many).
Task: Which activities you’re involved in, in the first place.
Technique: HOW you go about completing a task.
Team: WHO you’re working with on said task.
In the run-away best seller, The Four–Hour Workweek, author Tim Ferriss shared (in his own words) a few simple concepts on how to free up some of your time and techniques when addressing the day-to-day demands of your job. And he sold millions. I’m not discrediting The Four-Hour Workweek, I’m simply illustrating a point: We all have a desire to have more control over how, where, when, and with whom we complete our tasks. The mere suggestion that such a thing was possible had several million of us running to our local bookstores to learn more.
So here’s the question: Which of the four types of autonomy is most important to you: Time, Task, Technique or Team? How could you mix more of it into your current work?
Choose Your Porridge
"They provide employees with what I call ‘Goldilocks tasks’ – challenges that are not too hot or too cold, neither overly difficult nor overly simple."
If a task is too below our capabilities, we get bored. If it’s too far beyond us, we get stressed. Flow comes from engaging in tasks that stretch us just that little bit, so that we are totally engrossed in the process of attainment. While extrinsic rewards are nice, when we’re pursuing the right objectives the reward is in the accomplishment and sense of satisfaction that comes with it.
So, if you’re ever given a choice of assignments, think carefully about your options. Go for the one that really draws you in, the one that gets your mind going in unique and creative ways. The one that makes you go, “What if we just…”
Unfortunately, we can’t always choose the work that we’re engaged in. That’s not to say we can’t find flow in the tasks we’re asked to perform though. Try making larger tasks more manageable – break them down into things that are “just challenging enough” and, in doing so, make them more enjoyable as a result. If you can’t figure out how to break the task down on your own, find a buddy and talk through the situation with them. Identify stages of the task that you can use as landmarks along the way to full completion. Turn the activity into a game in whatever way you can; internal motivation will follow.
Drive is a book every manager should read. It’s a breath of fresh air, reminding us that we are human, full of curiosity, passion, and with a desire to leave the world better than we found it. The successful among us are intrinsically motivated to create, develop and produce our best. We don’t need carrots or sticks; we need the freedom, the challenge and the purpose to give our all.