The Secrets of Human Motivation: A Review of Drive by Dan Pink [Video]

Do you really know what drives human motivation?

For decades, most people have assumed people are best motivated through external rewards like money (e.g. the carrot and stick approach).

But that’s not necessarily true.  Author Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (affiliate link) debunks that long-held theory, and he backs it up with four decades of scientific research and specific examples of ground-breaking companies that are using new techniques to motivate their workers.

The central idea of the book is that there’s a major chasm between what science knows about human motivation and what businesses do. In fact, scientific research has found that there is a new package of intrinsic motivators which are much more effective in motivating people to do their highest and best work – motivators that businesses do a poor job of grasping.

The three specific elements of “Motivation 3.0” as Dan calls it are:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

Pink argues quite persuasively that we are all hard-wired to seek work that embraces these three elements, and that current management practices and workplaces too often inhibit workers by placing restrictions that prevent people from achieving truly gratifying work which capitalizes on all three elements.

Check out my full video review here:

As you can hopefully tell in the video, I really enjoyed this book.  It was incredibly well-researched and Dan Pink’s conclusions were well supported based on the data.

Although this book is clearly written for the business market, and I would definitely recommend this book to any employer, I’d also recommend it to people who have questions about their own happiness, particularly with regard to work.

For example, the book introduces the concept of “Flow” – the idea of achieving optimal happiness when you are working on a project where you have self-autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose. This is a concept that I’ve described many times before, but I’ve never hard a word for it. It’s not often you come across a book that introduces you to a term that you’ve always understood, but never actually hard a word for that concept.

I have felt feelings of “Flow” at work through the years – as I’m sure most people have. But I’ve never really understood what brought me to that state of Flow, and I never had a framework for examining my periods of Flow.

Now, I can look back at my periods of happiness and break down the elements of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to achieve a deeper understanding of what motivates me personally – and just as importantly, how I should shape and adapt my business so it allows me to experience more periods of Flow in the future.


How I Apply the Drive Principles

Drive got me thinking a lot about how I can make sure my business capitalizes on the three Motivation 3.0 elements. Here are my thoughts on each of them:


I went to work for myself in September 2011. You would think working for oneself is the epitome of autonomy, but that’s not necessarily true. Pink gives a great example in the book about why lawyers tend to be so unhappy, and it’s because dependence on the billable hour means lawyers actually have little autonomy over their time, and often little control over their tasks as well.

I have recognized how truly flawed the billable hour model is for years, which is why I’ve set a big goal for myself of diversifying my revenue sources so I am not 100% dependent on the billable hour.


The second element of the third Drive is mastery – the concept of having truly challenging, creative and fulfilling work which builds and develops one’s skills. Of the three elements, I feel that I’ve done the best job of embracing this one, mostly because practicing law and working with business owners is inherently challenging and can be quite creative.

However, practicing law could be quite mind-numbing, depending on one’s own abilities and their chosen area of law. There is more than one area of law that I would find mind-numbingly boring.

I made the decision when I started working for myself to work with entrepreneurs and business owners, because I find that work to be challenging, innovative, and evolving. However, mastery has a shifting goal line, in the sense that you are always searching to achieve a goal which can never be truly achieved. Therefore, one must adapt over time to ensure their subject matter focus is never too challenging and never comes too easily.


In the book, Pink gives a few great examples of companies that are not exactly nonprofits and are not exactly for-profits. Instead, there are more and more companies that see profit as a means to achieve a larger purpose, such as Tom’s Shoes, which donates one pair of shoes to a child in a developing nation for every pair of shoes it sells.

He finds that people who work for companies that have a clear sense of purpose can be much higher motivated than they would be by a slightly higher paycheck, or a larger bonus.

As our economy continues to move away from low-skill jobs and towards higher-level, more challenging and creative positions, it will become even more important that businesses embrace these concepts.

So hopefully I’ve sold you. I highly recommend the book and suggest you read the book again a year or two after your first go-round, like I did. You will find you get a lot more out of it.

One final note: Dan is actually working on developing the concepts in Drive into a series of workshops which should be cool.  You can check out more about the Workshops here.

Finally, in the interests of Full Disclosure: I worked with Dan many years ago at the Clinton White House (he was Chief Speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, and I was an intern in the Speechwriting Office and later a Writer in Presidential Letters and Messages), although I’m not sure exactly if we overlapped during the same time period. Nevertheless, I didn’t realize we both had worked in the Clinton White House until after I started to get into his books.

What do you think? Have you read Drive, or Dan’s other books Free Agent Nation, A Whole New Mind, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Las Career Guide You’ll Ever Need, or To Sell Is Human?  Let us know your thoughts below.