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Natalia Rossingol

Drive by Daniel Pink: Book Summary Part by Part

Discover the surprising factors that truly drive workplace motivation in our insightful summary of "Drive" by Daniel Pink.

Even though our societies have mostly shifted to a humanistic worldview, the human is not always celebrated at the workplace. The idea that people are lazy and inert by nature, depending on an outer stimulus to achieve any significant result, still lies at the foundation of the modern business management.

In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink suggests that even though the effectiveness of intrinsic motivation (and flaws of the extrinsic one) has been proved by science, there is a huge gap between what science knows and what business does. He explains why the old model, which treats employees as inanimate parts of a machine fails, and what to do to adopt a new system that uncovers talent and brings out the best in people.  

In our summary of "Drive", we will go over the main points Pink mentions in his book.

The Rise and Fall of Motivation

We can cling to a view of human motivation that is grounded more in old habits than in modern science. Or we can listen to the research, drag our business and personal practices into the twenty-first century, and craft a new operating system to help ourselves, our companies, and our world work a little better.

In the course of human history, the concept of motivation has endured several changes. To explain these changes, Pink uses the term “operating systems” that reflect the stages of motivation development.

Motivation 1.0

At the dawn of evolution, human behavior was simple. Its only trigger was the survival instinct, which urged people to gather food, protect themselves from carnivorous animals, and recreate. This was the operating system “Motivation 1” – and as Pink points out, even though it wasn’t the most elegant, it worked well back in the day.

Motivation 2.0

As human societies developed, the operating system based solely on the biological drive stopped being as productive. The drive had to be restrained otherwise people would harm each other, stealing food (and maybe wives.) This is when reward and punishment came into play.

This new operating system, Motivation 2.0, dominated for a very long time, achieving its peak flourishing at the age of the Industrial Revolution. Rapid technological development required a clear method of control over employees, and such a method was developed by an American engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor.

In the early 1900s, Taylor invented a new way of running business, which he called “scientific management,” later known as Taylorism. The idea of this innovation was to start viewing employees as parts of a complicated machine. If any part of the machine fails, the whole structure breaks down. So to ensure smooth work, you have to implement a straightforward system of reward and punishment - in other words, a system of extrinsic motivation.

Motivation 2.1

Motivation 2.0 wasn’t ennobling. In this system, people were treated merely like working force – or, using Pink's comparison, like horses. Taylor believed that people were innately passive and needed outer influence to work productively.

Over time, his views met some resistance. In the 1960s, Douglas McGregor, MIT management professor, stated that people had higher drives. His idea inspired organizations to respect their employees, give them more autonomy, and let them grow. However, it wasn’t enough.

Many years have passed, but we can still observe the Taylorist approach being widely used in modern organizations.

Seven Reasons Carrots and Sticks (Often) Don’t Work

Punishment and reward can be justified, but only to a certain extent. People work to make a living, and rewards like salary and benefits do stimulate them. Without fair rewards, it makes no sense to work at all. But Motivation 2.0 can play a bad trick on you – once you’re past the threshold, it works the opposite way.

Many practices whose effectiveness we take for granted produce counterintuitive results: They can give us less of what we want – and more of what we don’t want. These are the bugs in Motivation 2.0.

So why does the carrot and stick approach not work?

Carrots and Sticks: The Seven Deadly Flaws

1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation

In Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” there is a famous episode where Tom needs to whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence. He dreads this task and finds a way of not doing it: he convinces other boys that it’s fun, and eventually, they whitewash the fence for him.

This example teaches us an important motivational principle: work consists in whatever you’re obliged to do, and play consists in whatever you’re not obliged to do.

And the problem with extrinsic reward is that it can transform play into work.

The results of experiments conducted by researchers Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett, where they studied the behavior of children, showed that contingent external rewards hurt children’s intrinsic motivation. It deprived them of the sense of autonomy, of feeling in charge. But this is what institutions do: providing short-term rewards, they create long-term damage.

2. They can diminish performance

In another research, a group of economists went to India to study the effect of extrinsic incentives on motivation. The participants were asked to play games and were offered particular incentives. One group was offered a small reward, the second one – a medium one, and the third group – the largest.

Unexpectedly, the group with the highest incentive showed the worst results. This led to the conclusion that higher incentives caused worse performance as they decreased intrinsic motivation.

3. They can crush creativity

According to Teresa Amabile, the Harvard Business School professor, extrinsic rewards can be effective when it comes to algorithmic tasks. But for tasks that require problem-solving and inventiveness – tasks artists, scientists, and many of us in general have to deal with – they are rather dangerous. And since we can see a tendency of economics to move toward more creative, conceptual work, extrinsic rewards can pose a serious problem.

4. They can crowd out good behavior

Blood donation is about doing good. But will monetary incentives motivate people to donate more? The experiment by two Swedish economists showed that no, they won't. On the contrary, extrinsic reward leads to less of the desired behavior. The reward transformed an altruistic act into work and killed the person's intrinsic motivation.

5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior

External rewards create a mindset where only destination – the reward itself – matters. This is why people take shortcuts: for example, workers overcharge customers or do unnecessary repairs.

With intrinsic motivation, the activity itself is a reward – learning, delighting customers, and doing your best.

6. They can become addictive

At first, cash rewards can look attractive, but soon, you crave for more. And to keep the pleasure, you will need “larger and more frequent doses.”

7. They can foster short-term thinking

Research showed that companies that focused more on quarterly earnings delivered lower long-term growth. Because by focusing on quarterly earnings, they did not invest into research and development.

Type I and Type X

Based on McGregor’s theory of motivation (Theory X and Theory Y), Pink introduced his own way of thinking about human behavior – Type X, which depends on extrinsic motivation, and Type I, which depends on the intrinsic one.

According to Pink, to proceed to Motivation 3.0 operating system, we need to shift to the Type I behavior. For this type, the main motivator is challenge and freedom, which comes from the human need to create and improve. Money is important, but it’s not the ultimate goal. Intrinsic motivation, fueling this behavior, helps develop a high self-esteem and confidence. And it’s a renewable resource: 

Think of Type X behavior as coal and Type I behavior as the sun. For most of recent history, coal has been the cheapest, easiest, most efficient resource. But coal has two downsides. First, it produces nasty things like air pollution and greenhouse gases. Second, it’s finite…. Type X behavior is similar.

But Type I behavior, which is built around intrinsic motivation, draws on resources that are easily replenished and inflict little damage.

The Three Essentials

According to Pink, Type I behavior, self-directed and self-improving, stands on three pillars. These are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


Is it really true that people are inert by nature? Pink says – no, we’re naturally curious and self-directed. This becomes obvious when you observe children and see how eager they are to learn things about this world.  

And if we’re intrinsically motivated, we need autonomy. When we have a choice, we act without pressure. And this promotes more understanding, higher productivity, and mental well-being.

According to Pink, to demonstrate Type I behavior, we need autonomy over 4 things:

  • Task. Freedom over your tasks leads to innovation and even reforms. For example, at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC, nurses can conduct their own research, and this has already changed some of the hospital’s policies.
  • Time. Pink calls billable hour “a relic of Motivation 2.0.” It works for routine tasks (like fitting doors onto a car) when there is a connection between the amount of time and the amount of work you do. However, when the procedure of what you do is unpredictable, like it is in the sphere of law or movie acting, you should focus more on the work rather than on the time.
  • Technique. When you’re free from physical monitoring, you care about what really matters, instead of trying to make the right impression.
  • Team. Research shows that people who work in self-organized teams tend to be more satisfied than those who work in inherited teams. Moreover, they’re better coworkers. And like Pink notices, if you demonstrate Type I behavior, you can inspire others, because it’s contagious.

Autonomy does not exclude accountability, though. Motivation  2.0 assumes that when people have freedom, they try to bypass accountability. However, Motivation 3.0 is based on the assumption that people want to be accountable, so they will make sure to take care of their tasks, time, technique, and team.


While Motivation 2.0 is about compliance, Motivation 3.0 is about engagement. And that's why it's crucial for innovation: only an inquiring mind and the willingness to experiment can solve complex problems.

The state of flow is important to mastery, but it does not guarantee it. Flow happens in the moment. Mastery is developed over months and years.

To move towards mastery, Pink recommends to remember about its three laws:

  • Mastery is a Mindset. In Type X theory, performance goals are more important than learning ones, and effort is a sign of weakness. Type I, however, is the opposite. Seeing yourself in the first system means you will never achieve mastery. But if you adopt the second one, mastery is inevitable.
  • Mastery is a Pain. Mastery is becoming better at something you believe in and care for. And as Pink says, this path “is not lined with daisies and spanned by a rainbow.” It’s not fun. It hurts. It involves working a lot and seeing a little progress.
  • Mastery is an Asymptote. In algebra, the asymptote is a straight line that a curve approaches but never reaches. Mastery is the same. You can be very close, yet never touch it. And this is both a source of frustration and a source of allure.


For Type I behavior, autonomy and mastery are essential, as they help one perform at a very high level. But to achieve even more, you will need a third component, which would provide context for the first two. This component is purpose.

The Type X operating system does not banish purpose altogether. But it views it as rather as an accessory. You may have it, but you must focus on the important stuff. But it means at least one part of our nature is neglected – because humans have always tried to create something that would outlast themselves.

Purpose provides activation energy for living. I think that evolution has had a hand in selecting people who had a sense of doing something beyond themselves. - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  

Pink mentions three realms of organizational life where purpose can be found – goals, words, and policies.

  • Goals. Motivation 3.0 companies use profit as a catalyst rather than as an objective. Their goal is to pursue purpose. For the modern generation, money is not the most important form of compensation – what people care for is non-monetary factors, like giving society something meaningful.
  • Words. Words have power, and the right choice of words can make a miracle. As Gary Hamel, a management consultant, pointed out, management goals are typically described in words like “efficiency,” “advantage,” “superiority,” and suchlike. The problem is that these words do not rouse hearts. This is why, in Hamel’s opinion, business leaders should find ways to humanize the work people do, coloring mundane activities with ideals of honor, truth, justice, and beauty.
  • The power of words is well illustrated in the “pronoun test” by Robert B. Reich, a former U.S. labor secretary. When you visit a workplace and talk to employees about their organization, pay attention to what pronouns they use. If people refer to the company as “they,” it means they distance themselves from it. But when they say “we,” then they consider themselves a part of it. And “they” companies are very different from “we” companies.
  • Policies. Instead of telling people to behave in a certain way, create conditions that would enable them to do it. Provide a set of standards to follow.


Too many organizations, including governments and non-profits, still use outdated assumptions about human potential that do more harm than good. But there is a solution. By accepting a more dynamic view of motivation, you can both achieve higher performance, introduce innovation, and let employees be more accomplished. After all, it’s also about respect and faith in those who you work with.

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