I was introduced to Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by watching his TED talk on ‘motivation’.
Pink discusses strategies for motivating human behaviour. Survival is the most basic motivator. A secondary motivator is the desire to seek reward and avoid punishment. Pink calls this second motivator: Motivation 2.0. People and organisations have built their existence on the assumption that the way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence, is to reward the good and punish the bad. However, this approach is unreliable. It doesn’t always work.
Pink draws our attention to open-source software created by volunteers who receive no financial return. Firefox, Linux, and Apache occupy huge shares of the market and they are not driven by the promise of financial rewards. Microsoft pulled their expensive encyclopedia, Encarta, once it became clear that the volunteer-driven Wikipedia had totally blown it away. Open-source endeavours rely on intrinsic motivation. This is what Pink calls Motivation 3.0. One study of volunteers who participated in open-source endeavours found “that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest driver.” (p23) Motivation 2.0 has little room for these sorts of impulses.
While economists might assume that our primary goal is to maximize wealth. The reality is that our behaviour is more complex. People leave lucrative jobs to take positions with a clearer sense of purpose (such as ministry or unpaid voluntary work). People practice musical instruments without ever expecting any financial return. They work on puzzles for the satisfaction of completing them. There is much more to human motivation that external rewards and punishments.
Jobs are becoming more complex, more interesting, and more self-directed. Routine work, doing much the same thing over and over still exists, but there are more and more creative work options available. Motivation 2.0 (the proverbial carrot and stick) works well for routine tasks, but not for more heuristic ones. It assumes that work is not enjoyable, so we need to use external rewards and punishments to motivate people. However, this can actually demotivate people instead.
Studies have shown that rewards often have a short-term benefit, but lead to a loss of interest in the long-term. Extrinsic rewards can have a negative effect on creativity. Sometimes offering a financial reward eliminates the potential for altruism and the desire to do something good, and so reduces people’s incentive to be involved.
Extrinsic rewards sometimes contribute to unethical behaviour, such as taking short-cuts, cheating, or taking unwise risks. Working to get a reward can also become addictive. Once a reward is given, it becomes expected, and people no longer volunteer to do it for free. And you’ll probably have to increase the payment to keep getting the job done.
There are some circumstances where ‘carrot and stick’ motivation does work. When work is routine and doesn’t require creative thinking, rewards can provide some increased motivation. Rewards don’t undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for boring tasks because there isn’t much anyway.
Drive argues that intrinsically motivated people usually achieve more than reward motivated people. Neither dismiss money or recognition, but not everyone is motivated by the opportunity to get more. Intrinsic motivations can reward people with higher self-esteem, better interpersonal relationships, and increased general well-being.
Such behaviour depends on three nutrients: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It’s self-directed, devoted to becoming better and better at something that matters, and directed to a larger purpose.
Autonomy is different from independence. It’s about acting with choice. One study demonstrated that…
It promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enhanced persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being. (p91)
People value autonomy over four aspects of their work: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and with whom they do it. Their task, their time, their technique, and their team.
Google is known for encouraging engineers to spend a day a week working on a side project of their choice. Most use this 20% discretionary time to develop something entirely new. More than half of Google’s new products have been created during this period of pure autonomy.
Some workers, such as lawyers, are required to keep detailed accounts of their work time. Their focus is less on the output of their work (solving a client’s problem) and more on the input (billing as many hours as possible).
Contrast this with a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). In a ROWE work environment people don’t have schedules. They aren’t required to be at work at specific times. They’re just required to get their work done. Some workplaces have demonstrated significant increases in productivity after moving to ROWE.
In a Motivation 3.0 environment workers have autonomy over technique. They have to achieve quality results, but how they do this is up to them. Productivity, job satisfaction, and staff retention is increased.
Open source is an example in which teams self-assemble to pursue a new project. At W.L. Gore and Associates, the makers of GORE-TEX fabric, people seeking promotion must be able to assemble people willing to work with them.
Some workers will desire more autonomy over their tasks, others their time, their techniques, or their teams. Organisations will achieve better outcomes if they seek to work with, rather than resist, these motivators. Some will baulk at these ‘progressive’ ideas, but it’s important to understand that…
…encouraging autonomy doesn’t mean discouraging accountability. People must be accountable for their work, but there are different ways to approach that end. Motivation 2.0 assumed that if people had freedom, they would shirk – and that having autonomy was a way of bypassing accountability. Motivation 3.0 begins with a different assumption. It presumes that people want to be accountable – and making sure they have control over their task, their time, their technique, and their team is a pathway to that destination. (p106-107)
Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters. Motivation 2.0 – the carrot and stick – will never engage people with this pursuit. It must come from an inner motivation.
A study of 11,000 industrial engineers and scientists found that the desire for intellectual challenge was the best predictor of productivity. Scientists motivated by intrinsic desire filed many more patents than those whose main motivation was money. Good organisations create opportunities for their workers to increase their mastery.
Mastery is a mindset. It’s a way of approaching life. It’s also a pain. It hurts, and often isn’t much fun. Mastery of sports, music, business requires effort over many years. Mastery is also an asymptote (a straight line that a curve approaches but never reaches). You can approach mastery, you can get really close, but you will never touch it. The joy is in the pursuit more than the achievement.
Purpose provides a context for autonomy and mastery. The most deeply motivated people attach their desires to a much larger cause. Motivation 2.0 focused on profit maximization. Motivation 3.0 doesn’t dismiss profits, but it also focuses on purpose maximization.
People attaining purpose goals, and not simply profit goals, report higher levels of satisfaction and well-being, and low levels of anxiety and depression. Reaching meaningful goals helps people to feel good in their circumstances.
People who reported achieving only profit goals weren’t any happier. More money didn’t solve their issues. They showed increases in anxiety, depression, and other negative indicators even though they received plenty of money. It’s not that profit doesn’t matter in organisations, but it’s not the most important motive. History’s greatest achievements, from the printing press to finding cures for diseases, had more to do with purpose than profit.
What can we learn?
This book pushes me to think more about how we seek to motivate people. Working as a pastor means that I’m keen to be encouraging people to serve, to join ministry teams, to contribute to the life of the church, to reach out to others, to support the church financially and prayerfully. My temptation is sometimes to work from the assumption that people don’t want to do these things and that they need to be pushed hard to get involved. We can fall into the trap of using ‘guilt’ as the stick and ‘earning God’s favour’ as the carrot. This is a form of legalism.
Instead, we would do well to remember that people who are trusting in Christ and who have received God’s Spirit will be inclined to love, serve, give, and contribute. We will motivate them more effectively by reminding them of the wonder of the gospel, the freedom they have to live for God and others, and the rich purpose of working for things of eternal value.
A regular motivator in churches is to plead with people to fill rosters, to give more money, to work harder at being ‘good Christians’. This is short-sighted, ineffective, and ungodly motivation. Far better to inspire people to use the gifts God has given them, to work at developing these gifts, to strive together in the common cause of the gospel, and to seek God’s honour rather than our own. We do well to paint a vision of a life well-lived for Christ.
Autonomy, mastery and purpose can be entirely selfish drivers. They can be all about me. ‘Let me have the independence to do things my way.’ ‘Let me try to become the best I can be.’ ‘Let me determine what purpose or value I ascribe to things.’ Pink’s categories don’t guarantee any better motivation than those seeking to gain rewards or avoid punishments. However, when they are shaped by God’s word they can. They can inspire leaders to motivate people to take initiative in growing their gifts to serve God for his glory.
When leaders focus on their own autonomy and mastery, it can sometimes reinforce their tendency to be control freaks. We don’t want people doing things independently. We prevent people doing things because we believe that we can do it better. We’ve mastered the task and they haven’t. We love the opportunity to innovate, contribute, and grow our skills, yet we sometimes deny the same opportunities to others. This is all too common in churches and very short-sighted and selfish.
This book has pushed me to examine the issues of what inspires and motivates people to work. Not just paid employment, but voluntary work, and especially Christian service. I need to audit the strategies and methods that I tend to employ to determine how I can be a better motivator of others.
I don’t think this book is all that profound, but it does challenge the typical default strategies for getting people to work. It inspires me to reflect on my default strategies and to be more creative. It pushes me to work through Scripture again, asking how God motivates people, and how New Testament Christian leaders motivated people, and to think about how I can better motivate people in the future. One part of the Bible has motivated me for more that thirty years:
14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 my emphasis)