My Top Ten: Books About Motivation, Performance & Engagement

#10: Drive by Daniel Pink

Pink’s 2009 bestseller is timeless. The only reason I don’t rank it higher is because it draws so heavily on other people’s work. That’s no criticism, Pink is a master at turning academically-oriented writing work into gripping narrative while losing very little of the substance. In this case, Pink borrows mainly from Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory of human motivation and performance. Ryan and Deci theory says we all need “competence, autonomy and relatedness” to engage and perform at our best. Pink says much the same thing but uses the terms Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.

Pink writes a great deal in Drive about the superiority of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. His central argument and the essence of his book is that for most knowledge and creative workers today, using tangible rewards (i.e. money, flat screen TVs, etc.) to motivate is only marginally effective at best, and harmful to productivity and innovation at worst. In support of his argument, Pink draws on the works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’ in his classic, Flow (also in my top 10), Martin Seligman’s work on positive psychology, Carol Dweck and Teresa Amabile’s work on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and Gary Hamel’s brilliant insights into 21st-century management. But too many people misinterpret Pink’s conclusions about rewards and incentives.

Pink, and – with the exception of Alfie Kohn – the scholars whose work he cites, believe that extrinsic rewards, incentives, and recognition are necessary to motivate people. Pink simply includes interesting work, choice job assignments, greater autonomy, developmental opportunities and purposeful work among the range of rewards that should be offered. Well-designed tangible rewards (non-cash) such as experiences that tap emotions and/or have purpose (i.e. some incentive trips) and even well-selected, meaningful merchandise rewards have their place.

Pink’s bottom line is that people need more than money to engage and perform at their best, they need both a rational and emotional connection with their organization, or at least with the work and their immediate team. The good news is that the right mix of incentives, recognition and rewards (intrinsic and extrinsic) if viewed holistically, can provide that emotional connection.

Allan Schweyer

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