Review: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Back in January I listened to a library audio copy of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. It was one of those synchronicity books: unaware of the book, Matt had come across the RSA summary and shared it with me and then a day or two later I was browsing my brother’s Amazon wishlist and saw the title there. So I opened a new tab in my browser, went to the library’s site, searched for the book, and not only did they have a hard copy, but they had a downloadable audio copy! Click, click, and now I had motivation for folding laundry.

Here is the brief summary review I wrote for my Goodreads account in January:

Working for rewards is demotivating to all work but the most rote and grueling. People want meaning and mastery more than wealth-maximization, but our current systems for the most part conceive of people more as trick ponies or vending machines rather than humans. Most jobs and the education system are set up in dehumanizing ways, and should be revamped to be more in keeping with current science. That is, current science is finally coming around to corroborate what used to be traditional, classical common sense.

I am glad I read it (yes, listening counts as reading) just as I was gearing up to plan school. It actually did affect how I planned and arranged our lessons. And now that we are nearing the end of our second term, I can also attest that the changes I made based on this book’s observations have been beneficial. I have had much less push-back from my sons than I have in previous years, and I think it is because I kept Pink’s three aspects in the forefront as I laid out our plans.

Pink begins by telling the story of some fascinating experiments which, over and over again, prove that if-then rewards are actually demotivating. Carrot-and-stick-type rewards (subsidize what you want and penalize what you don’t) usually do not work; and the cases in which they do are few and specific. In fact, the consequences of dangling-carrot rewards was astounding:

  1. They kill intrinsic motivation
  2. Very high rewards cause stress and decrease performance
  3. They help motivation for algorithmic tasks, but deaden heuristic, creative thinking
  4. They decrease motivation for altruistic behaviors
  5. They increase unethical behavior
  6. They cause dependency (higher rewards are needed for same effect)
  7. They reduce the depth & breadth of our thinking
  8. They promote “quick fix” short-term solutions (or cheating)

The underlying foundational question Pink begins with is Are we primarily economic beings, out to maximize wealth?

Turns out not. This is the simplistic, modern, industrial-era anthropology. It was convenient, and because industrial work is primarily rote, it was generally effective in its time. However, industrialization was a blip in the span of history, and we are over it already. Rote, systematic tasks are now either done by machines, computers, or outsourced to cheaper labor around the world. American job growth is based primarily in jobs requiring creative thinking or the personal touch, jobs that cannot be done by computers alone.

And, what of our educational theory and practice? Is education a rote process that we could write a computer script to complete? Is it a logic-based exercise in getting the right answers on a workbook page? Or is it a uniquely human function? Does our education ask the students to apply themselves to the task at hand and transform the blank paper into an essay or illustration? Do we, moreover, ask that the student open himself up to transformation, to re-creation? What anthropology are we unconsciously applying in our day to day administration of school and life?

The truth of the matter is that we are not wealth maximizers. It would be more accurate to say we are happiness maximizers, which is not [always] tied to wealth. Instead, Pink posits, happiness and satisfaction center on having these three operators in our lives:

  1. Autonomy: the ability to have at least some self-direction.
  2. Mastery: the ability to improve ourselves in a field or skill.
  3. Purpose: the ability to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.

To be purely economically motivated, we must be, as Weaver points out, egoists. However, even science is now debunking this narrow interpretation of humanity and society. Ideas might have consequences, but the truth will out. Ideas can’t change the way the world, under God’s sovereign hand, actually operates.

The psychological and sociological discussion is interesting, but what struck me was how applicable it was to childrearing and homeschooling. How do we treat our children? What do we expect ourselves to respond to? Over the next week, I want to look at each of the three factors Pink develops and apply them to homeschooling and housework, to our children and ourselves.

Discovering What Motivates

  1. Review: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  2. How Not to Motivate: Extrinsic Rewards
  3. Motivating without Stickers: Intrinsic Motivation
  4. Finding Motivation: Autonomy in [Home] School and [House] Work
  5. Finding Motivation: Mastery in [Home] School and [House] Work
  6. Finding Motivation: Purpose in [Home] School and [House] Work