20 in 2020: DRIVE by Dan Pink

Drive Header20 books worth talking about (in Rich Gassen’s opinion)

As mentioned in my last article, I am a print production manager at UW-Madison’s Digital Publishing and Printing Services, and also the chair of a community of practice on the UW campus called Campus Supervisors Network (CSN). Because of these two commitments, I research and read about leadership more than I had in the past.

Last week I published the first in this series of articles on 20 books that have influenced me recently. I am calling this series 20 in 2020, and want to share a little about each book so you might find value and be motivated to read them as well.


Today, I dive into Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. This book has been available for nearly nine years and continues to gather steam with its audience. Pink challenges the old-school way of extrinsic motivation in the workplace as being outdated and stale. The carrot-and-stick approach to motivating staff and threatening discipline was tailored to assembly line factory jobs and is not suitable to the more heuristic thinking we employ in most roles today. Pink suggests that, in our twenty-first-century work environments, three components of intrinsic motivation are more effective: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

The Official Write-up for Drive:


Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink (author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others). In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that 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. He examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action in a unique book that will change how we think and transform how we live.

Watch the RSA Animate video below for a great summary of the book.


I have been inside this book several times; I read it some years ago for the first time and picked it up again about a year ago when the Campus Supervisors Network chose it for our Summer Book Club in 2019. With this decision, I reread the book and also helped prepare discussion materials with other CSN committee members for three sessions during our book club. As I reinvested in the ideas Pink put forth in Drive, I realized I have been living these principles in my own management style for several years. Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose are woven into the fabric of my workplace and I use intrinsic motivation techniques a lot in my professional and personal life. More recently, I presented this topic at the UW-Madison Leadership and Management Development Conference, and then at January’s Servant Leader Community of Practice meeting. Let’s talk about each of these motivators in more detail:


This is the area of intrinsic motivation that I have focused on in my management techniques the most. I have sought autonomy as an employee my whole life, and when I became a supervisor I immediately started infusing autonomy into the area I was overseeing. Some things I implemented:

• Autonomy of Task: cross-training staff on multiple machines and processes, and allowing them to have more choice in the areas they would work based on workload and staffing.

• Autonomy of Technique: Not being strict on how to perform a task, instead talking about the output and “what done looked like.” I don’t concern myself with which machine is used or what method we get to the final product, as long as we deliver what was asked of us in a quality manner. Many times, a seasoned worker will have better ideas on how to complete something than I would anyway, so why stifle their innovation and creativity by dictating the way a task must be done? We have discovered many efficiencies and new methods through this freedom of technique.

•Autonomy of Team (to an extent): We have over a dozen people in the area I oversee, and many times staff can choose those they partner with on projects to bring more satisfaction to the work itself. This is not always an option, but giving people the choice of workmates is a huge incentive to workplace satisfaction.

Other corporations have gone to extremes, like implementing ROWE (results-only work environments) and seen huge upticks in output and efficiency when removing barriers and promoting autonomy in the workplace.

In DRIVE, Pink says, “Studies have shown that perceived control is an important component of one’s happiness. However, what people feel like they want control over really varies, so I don’t think there’s one aspect of autonomy that’s universally the most important. Different individuals have different desires, so the best strategy for an employer would be to figure out what’s important to each individual employee.”


The quest for mastery of your work is an essential part of growth and development. The desire for an intellectual challenge—that is, the urge to master something new and engaging—is the best predictor of productivity. This is what drives people to train more, seek out new solutions and innovations, go back to school, or literally spend thousands of hours on something. Malcolm Gladwell is famous for his 10,000-hour rule of seeking mastery, and many others have referenced this concept in the realm of mastering something. I like to think I have come close to mastering InDesign and Photoshop, but in reality, I will never truly master these graphic design programs because they keep improving them and adding features faster than I can train on them. However, I am thousands of hours into each program and don’t really have to think too often in order to solve a challenge within them. I have trained others in these programs and mentor customers on the best way to submit files or create effects they desire, so I am an advanced user to say the least. More on Mastery here.


Give them flow!

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. For people to find a sense of flow the relationship between what a person needs to do and what he can actually accomplish is aligned for them. Learn more about flow here.


The first two parts of intrinsic motivation—autonomy and mastery—are essential. But for those to work, we also need to promote purpose and provide a context for them to be successful.


People at work are thirsting for context, yearning to know that what they do contributes to a larger whole. And a powerful way to provide that context is to spend a little less time telling how and a little more time showing why. Simon Sinek covered this in Start with Why.

Pink sites an example of fund-raising in his book: people tasked with calling for donations to a cause were twice as productive and successful when they were told ahead of time what the results of the fundraising would accomplish and how the funds changed the lives of its recipients. The ‘Why’ was much more powerful as a motivator than the ‘How’ of a task in this situation.

Employees also feel more valued and display more motivation in the workplace if, and when, they understand their exact role in the greater purpose. O.C. Tanner is an employee recognition company, who says, “When employees understand how their efforts play a part in something much bigger than themselves, they feel more valued by their leaders and by their organization.”

I hope you found value in this review of Drive. Here are a few more resources that I had referenced in my book club discussions:

• Melissa Hughes: Think money is the biggest motivator for employees? Think again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFjyGE3hC4c&feature=youtu.be

• Dan Pink’s TED talk from 2009 about DRIVE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y&feature=youtu.be

• 10 Easy Steps To Ensure All Your Employees Feel Valued At Work by O.C. Tanner https://www.octanner.com/insights/articles/2019/10/3/_10_easy_steps_to_en.html

• Link to my discussion materials from the LMD presentation, November 2019 https://campussupervisorsnetwork.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2019/11/What-Really-Drives-Employees_Intrinsic-Motivation.pdf

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