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What Motivates You?

18 July 2017

Janie read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, and contemplated Pink’s research on the science behind motivation.

Tags: dan pink, janie read, motivation

I have been a fan of Daniel Pink’s Pinkcasts for some time now, but I had never read one of his books. When perusing our bookshelves, I saw that we had a copy of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us on the shelf, and decided to pick it up to see if I enjoyed his writing as much as I enjoy his Pinkcasts.

Pink’s main premise is that when it comes to motivation, there is a gap between what science tells us and what most of the business world does. Most business operating systems are built around external, “carrot-and-stick” type motivation. Rewards are contingent upon meeting the objective. While rewards can be effective in the short term, research shows that in the long term they can be demotivating. Pink argues that we should be focusing on intrinsic motivation, or “the drive to do something because is it interesting, challenging, and absorbing.” Research has shown that in an environment where extrinsic rewards are the most salient, most people will only work to the point that triggers the reward, and no further. However, when the reward is the activity itself, people will work until they are satisfied with the resolution.

Pink calls those who are extrinsically motivated, “Type X,” and those who are intrinsically motivated, “Type I.” For Type X’s, the main motivator is external rewards; any deeper satisfaction is welcome, but secondary. On the other hand, for Type I’s, the main motivator is the challenge of the undertaking itself; other gains are welcome, but they are a bonus, not the main driver. Pink argues that ultimately Type I behavior depends on 3 factors:

  1. Autonomy-the desire to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery-the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose-the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

I found myself most interested in the chapter on mastery, and the idea that flow is essential to mastery. Pink references the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi when explaining the concept of flow. Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist who studied creativity, and that eventually led him to a study of play. He found that during play, many people enjoyed what he called “autotelic experiences.” In an autotelic experience, the goal is self-fulfilling and the activity is its own reward. After extensive interviews, he found people were describing these optimal moments as flow. “The highest most satisfying experiences in people’s lives were when they were in flow…in flow, goals are clear. Feedback is immediate. The mountaintop gets closer or farther. Most important, in flow, the relationship between what a person had to do and what he could do was perfect.” When the match is just right, the results can be fantastic; this is the essence of flow.

When looking for examples of flow, Pink says children should be our role models. “They careen from one flow moment to another, animated by a sense of joy, equipped with a mindset of possibility, and working with the dedication of a West Point cadet. They use their brains and bodies to probe and draw feedback from the environment in an endless pursuit of mastery.” I loved this description, and have found it to be very accurate in my own children. After finishing this book, I’ve found myself thinking about ways to cultivate more moments of flow in my life. I have two great role models at home to study and learn from!

If you are interested in learning more about the science behind motivation, I highly recommend this book. I touched on a small fraction of the ideas Pink presented, and I found his research to be fascinating. I think this is a book that I will refer to repeatedly.  


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