Sunday, February 19, 2012

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. (A Review)

Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive, the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, New York: Riverhead Books.

The field of pop-psychology is full of books about how to be great leaders and motivators.  Often times, these books are written by business leaders with MBAs who have been successful, business writers who have observed other business leaders becoming successful, psychologists who offer tips on what can make YOU successful, and even entrepreneurs with little formal education in the field of psychology or business documenting what has made them successful.  

Daniel Pink is none of those.  He is a formally trained lawyer, with his juris doctorate from Yale.  He writes from the perspective of somebody who has studied economics in addition to law; his assertions are reasoned and rooted in many economic principles, something sorely missing from many other “motivational” studies.  He writes of his experience studying economics in the early 1980s:  “Economics…was the study of behavior.  [People] were rational calculators of our economic self-interest” (Pink, 24).  He continues by describing how this idea of pursuit of self-interest persisted in law school; there was no way around it – the only factor in decision making was an ongoing calculation of self-interest.  But Pink has somewhat of a crisis of faith in 2002 after the Nobel Prize for economics is given to a psychologist who argued that the idea of the person as a self-interest calculator is simply fiction.  Decision making, and thusly motivation, is much more complicated.

Pink then gives a historiography of motivation.  According to Pink, Motivation 1.0 was all about survival.  Whatever kept you alive was your motivation (Pink, 16).  Motivation 2.0 emerges as societies become more complex.  Motivation 2.0 is all about seeking reward and avoiding punishment (Pink, 16).  Pink then spends approximately the next 50 pages debunking much of the assumptions of Motivation 2.0.  For example, Pink asserts that Motivation 2.0 assumes that “work is inherently not enjoyable” which is why preferred behaviors are rewarded and questionable behaviors are punished (Pink, 29).   But this is really just the tip of the iceberg.  Pink suggests that there are 3 fundamental problems with Motivation 2.0 – people are not only motivated by extrinsic rewards but also by intrinsic purpose, people are not “single minded economic robots,” and finally, in the 21st century, work is not simply a labor of necessity but is often creative, interesting, and stimulating (Pink, 31).  

The purpose of Pink’s argument is to arrive at what he calls Motivation 3.0.  And, according to Pink, there are two types of people – Type I and Type X.  Type I are intrinsically motivated (Hence the “I” nomenclature) and seek to meet their intrinsic needs and desires.  Type X are motivated primarily by extrinsic rewards (Pink, 75).  Pink is careful to offer a non-judgmental analysis of Type X, but he readily admits that Motivation 3.0 hinges on the emergence of Type I, which Pink argues is the natural state of people and it’s only through learned behavior that we become Type X (Pink, 77).  

Finally, Pink describes the 3 components of Motivation 3.0 – Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  In his analysis of these three concepts, Pink gives multiple examples of successful businesses that have adopted them as fundamental principles.  He describes the emergence of the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment), which emphasizes autonomy rather than control (Pink, 98).  He uses the example of West Point as an example of mastery which is long term and ongoing (Pink, 122).  He highlights the emergence of a huge Baby Boomer population who seek work beyond the profit margin (Pink, 133).  Pink closes the book with a Toolkit to help the reader, manager, organization that is looking to move from Type X to Type I (Pink, 150-217).

There were multiple points reading through Pink’s book where I found myself thinking about my own experience sitting in economics classes and learning about what is “rational” and “irrational.”  Economics is an natural lens with which to critically examine motivation.  One of components that is consistently missing from many books in the canon of motivation is the acknowledgement of economic principles.  Pink did an interesting thing by addressing these principles, but then disavowing them right away (Pink, 25).  However, Pink is not dismissive of these principles and doesn’t disavow them because they aren’t true.  Rather, he distances his ideas of motivation from economics by using the ideas of Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel Prize winner described above.  By doing this, Pink gives his argument more credibility by virtue of using this cutting edge economic thinking.  His argument becomes grounded in Kahneman’s radical (but critically supported) idea that people are more than their economic self-interest.  

After imbuing his argument with economic credibility, Pink bases much of his argument on the findings of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, developers of the “Self Determination Theory” (Pink, 69).  Self Determination Theory (SDT), Pink explains, contends that people have three basic psychological needs – “competence, autonomy, and relatedness” (Pink, 70).  Deci and Ryan have contributed to the field of behavioral psychology in many ways, and Pink cites them frequently.  However, Pink has compiled a thorough and well-researched synthesis of many leading thinkers in the fields of behavior psychology, sociology, economics, and clinical research – Mark Lepper, David Greene, Alfie Kohn, Dan Ariely, Teresa Amabile, Richard Titmuss, Pierre Azoulay, Anton Suvorov, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Bruno Frey, and Carol Dweck among others.

Throughout most of the book, Pink is careful to not adhere too closely to one researcher or the other.  He is skilled at synthesizing many different perspectives and narratives into one cogent argument of his own.  However, Pink falls short in two notable occasions, both in the same chapter.  In his chapter titled “Mastery,” Pink bases the first part of the chapter on the idea of “Flow” established by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.  Flow, is essentially the point when a person is so into what they are doing that “time, place, and even [sense of self] melt away” (Pink, 113).  The second part of the chapter is entirely based on the work of Carol Dweck, and specifically her book Mindset.  While both Czikszentmihalyi and Dweck are touchstone authors in their field, Pink’s argument seems somewhat weak by anchoring so steadfastly to their own.  The other chapters of the book are full of synthesized ideas that support Pink’s idea, and this chapter comes across as simply a summary of two.

As I read Drive, there were numerous “Whoa, awesome!” moments.  I thought a lot about my work experience before teaching, and realized why many of my colleagues and I were unhappy.  Our employer definitely adhered to a Motivation 2.0 model, with few carrots, but lots of sticks.  Our employer used “extrinsic motivators like bonuses, incentive plans, and forced rankings” (Pink, 19) to get us to do more, which often led to many of the pitfalls of Motivation 2.0 described by Pink in Chapter 2.  Interestingly, our employer used Motivation 2.0 (rewards and punishment), but wanted us to use Motivation 3.0 (purpose driven, seeking mastery, etc.).  

In terms of how I thought about the classroom, I thought about effective teachers I have seen.  Effective teachers encourage students through Motivation 3.0 without realizing it, and ineffective teachers are often strict adherents to Motivation 2.0.  Many of my own teachers in high school sought control, and were concerned with memorization rather than mastery. 

But, being out of the classroom made me really think about the ideas being presented in Drive.  There are certainly instances of being able to help motivate students (Extra-curricular activities, discipline issues, etc.), but what I thought more about was developing professional development for my adult colleagues.  It would be quite interesting to develop some kind of PD relating to motivating students and really exploring and unpacking what we do in our classrooms and school in order to motivate students.  This concept could relate to our core values, and what makes us, as a professional learning community, different than larger more traditional learning environments.

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