• July 2011

Dan Pink Explains the Truth About What Drives Us

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent Magazine

In “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” New York Times bestselling author Dan Pink gives some radical advice: Forget everything you thought you knew about how to motivate people—at work, at school, at home.

“Most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach,” he says. “That’s a mistake. The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life.

“While carrots and sticks worked successfully in the 20th century, that’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges,” insists the author of four books, including “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future.”

In “Drive,” Pink outlines three elements of true motivation:

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

Be Inkandescent Magazine recently talked with the renowned author about how his ideas apply to schools and educators—and how parents can help instill a strong sense of drive in their children. Scroll down to read our conversation.

Be Inkandescent: Let’s start with autonomy. Tell us why it’s so important, and what educators and parents can do to help students feel they have some autonomy despite the obvious rules and regulations that kids need to follow in school.

Dan Pink: Here’s the thing. There’s a huge difference between compliance and engagement. Compliance isn’t meaningless. Ultimately, at school and at work, we want people to be engaged. The trouble is that human beings don’t engage by being controlled—by being managed or “incentivized,” or pressured.

The only way that you engage, I engage, our kids engage is by getting there under their own steam. That means that while management and control are good for compliance, they’re the wrong approach for engagement. Engagement depends on self-direction. And that means notching up, even a little, how much autonomy students have over what the they do, when they do it, who they do it with, and how they do it.

Be Inkandescent: In his book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” author Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Can you tell us more about the importance of mastery, and how schools can help students learn to become masters in the K-12 education system?

Dan Pink: As you know, I’m a big fan of Dr. Carol Dweck [the Stanford social psychologist]—and she has part of the answer here. Her work shows that one’s mindset can dramatically affect mastery. We can have our kids believe that intelligence is a fixed quantity—that you either have talent or don’t. Or we can have them understand that intelligence is something that can grow through effort.

If kids have the first mindset, they shy away from challenges, don’t persist, and sometimes even cheat—because they don’t want to show they’re stupid. But if they have the other mindset, they take on new challenges and persist through difficulty because they know intelligence is something they can grow.

So the first step in helping students move toward mastery is to equip them with a growth mindset. What’s more, Dr. Dweck has helped to illuminate the difference between performance goals (example: getting a good grade) and learning goals (example: mastering the material.)

We mistakenly believe that hitting performance goals means students have learned something—but that’s just not true. It’s why a nominally “good” student like me could have taken French for six years and gotten straight As—and still not be able to speak French. If we promote the growth mindset and learning goals, we’ll serve our kids well.

Be Inkandescent: Yearning for purpose is undoubtedly something that adults struggle with as they strive to balance their personal finances with their work life and home life. Is there any way that schools, teachers, and parents can instill in students the importance having a purpose, so that as they grow up, the struggle and yearning can be less of a challenge?

Dan Pink: I think in some ways it’s simpler than that. People, whether they’re younger and shorter or taller and older, want context. They want to know how what they’re doing fits in. Yet at both the office and at school, we’re slightly obsessed over the “how“—here’s how you solve that quadratic equation, here’s how you write that memo.

But we often give short shrift to the “why.” Why do we study quadratic equations? Why do we write that memo? A little less how and little more why can go a long way. So when our kids ask, “Why am I doing his homework?,” we need to see that not as a truculent complaint, but as a serious question that deserves a serious answer.

Be Inkandescent: In your first bestseller, “A Whole New Mind,” you explain that the lawyers, accountants, and computer programmers that our parents encouraged us to become is a thing of the past. Rather, you suggest that we have embarked on an era in which “right brain” qualities predominate—including inventiveness, empathy, and meaning. How do the ideas from your previous book tie into your theories in “Drive”?

Dan Pink: There’s a strong connection. After that book, people said, “If you’re right, or if you’re then wrong, then how do we motivate people to do creative, conceptual work?” I didn’t have a clue. So I began looking at what turned out to be an absolute treasure-trove of research on human motivation. And the answers I found were surprising. Very surprising. They overturned orthodoxies that I didn’t even realize were orthodoxies.

Be Inkandescent: “Drive” has been an international hit. Not only was it listed on every national bestseller list in its first month of publication, it has spent 39 weeks on the New York Times lists, and has already been translated into Japanese, German, Spanish, Chinese, Hungarian, Polish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Italian, and Swedish—and will soon appear in 19 other languages. Given the universal interest and attention, it’s clear that drive is a human trait. But since the book hit newsstands, what is the most fascinating thing you have learned about what motivates and drives others?

Dan Pink: That the science confirms what most of us—deep down—already believe about ourselves and others, but felt squeamish about expressing.

Be Inkandescent: Last, but not least: What drives you, and is it different from what drives your three kids?

Dan Pink: What drives me is trying to do interesting work that might matter a tiny bit in other people’s lives. What drives my three kids is … my wife — to baseball games, to swim team, to drumming lessons, to piano practice, to the orthodontist! Actually, I have a gut sense what might drive them, but they’re young. They’re still figuring it out. And I can’t wait to see what they discover.

Take a Look Inside “Drive”

The Introduction: The Puzzling Puzzles of Harry Harlow and Edward Deci “In scientific terms, it was akin to rolling a steel ball down an inclined plane to measure its velocity—only to watch the ball float into the air instead. It suggested that our understanding of the gravitational pulls on our behavior was inadequate—that what we thought were fixed laws had plenty of loopholes.”

Part I: The New Operating System

Chapter 1: The Rise of Motivation 2.0 “But in the first 10 years of this century—a period of truly staggering underachievement in business, technology, and social progress—we’ve discovered that this sturdy, old operating system doesn’t work nearly as well. It crashes—often and unpredictably. It forces people to devise workarounds to bypass its flaws. Most of all, it is proving incompatible with many aspects of contemporary business.”

Chapter 2: Seven Reasons Carrots and Sticks (Often) Don’t Work … “In other words, rewards can perform a weird sort of behavioral alchemy: They can transform an interesting task into a drudge. They can turn play into work.”

Chapter 2A: … and the Special Circumstances When They Do “While an operating system centered around rewards and punishments has outlived its usefulness and badly needs an upgrade, that doesn’t mean we should scrap every piece.”

Chapter 3: Type I and Type X “A picture may be worth a thousand words—but sometimes neither is as potent as just two letters.”

Part II: The Three Elements

Chapter 4: Autonomy “Perhaps it’s time to toss the very word ‘management’ into the linguistic ash heap alongside ‘icebox’ and ‘horseless carriage.’ This era doesn’t call for better management. It calls for a renaissance of self-direction.”

Chapter 5: Mastery “In our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

Chapter 6: Purpose “It’s in our nature to seek purpose. But that nature is now being revealed and expressed on a scale that is demographically unprecedented and, until recently, scarcely imaginable. The consequences could rejuvenate our businesses and remake our world.”

Part III: Type I Toolkit

Type I for Individuals: Nine Strategies for Awakening Your Motivation

Type I for Organizations: Thirteen Ways to Improve Your Company, Office, or Group

The Zen of Compensation: Paying People the Type I Way

The Zen of Compensation Reconsidered: Are Salespeople Different?

Type I for Parents and Educators: Ten Ideas for Helping Our Kids

Type I Reading List: Fifteen Essential Books

Listen to the Gurus: Seven Business Thinkers Who Get It

Type I Fitness Plan: Four Tips for Getting (and Staying) Motivated to Exercise

Click here to buy ‘Drive.’

For more information, visit www.danpink.com.

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