What you could learn from ‘Drive’ By Daniel Pink (2009, 202 pages)

Few books lead to new organisational paradigms.  Daniel’s book ‘Drive’ and his theories on motivation have catapulted Netflix and Spotify to global success.

Drive suggest that there is a gap between what research has shown increases motivation, and what business do.  Daniel indicates that the current motivation model (carrot and stick) is no longer suitable for modern workplaces and needs to be replaced with a focus on autonomy, mastery and purpose.

The first chapter of the book looks at the history of motivational research.  Motivation theories are divided into two groups, content and process (see diagram below, copied from here).


Content theories emerged first (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in 1943) and focused on what motivates people (basic, psychological and self-fulfilment needs).   More recently, process theories emerged which focus on the how people are motivated (you can find more on these theories at the bottom of the page).

In the second chapter, Daniel reflects on why these past frameworks no longer apply.  New business models have emerged that focus on value creation for the customer, and not self-maximisation.  Behavioural economics suggests that humans make (predictable) irrational decisions, so theories of reward and punishment are too simplistic and it is hard to reconcile with what we actually do.

Daniel suggests that the reasons rewards and punishment don’t (often) work are because they:

  • Extinguish intrinsic motivation
  • Diminish performance
  • Crush creativity
  • Crowd out good behaviour
  • Encourage unethical behaviour
  • Create addictions
  • Foster short-term thinking

The third chapter, explains the narrow circumstances when rewards can work – when faced with a repetitive and obvious solution to basic tasks.  But, rewards need to be augmented with:

  • Rational of why the task is necessary.  Show how the task makes an impact on the business, or more preferably your customers
  • Acknowledge the task is tedious.  Honesty helps.
  • Allow people to complete the task in their own way.  While you may have a ‘best practice’ or prescribed way, letting people find their own way makes the task more enjoyable as they have the opportunity to learn


The rest of the book is focused on defining autonomy, mastery and purpose, and how they can be encouraged.


Give people autonomy over the four essentials: task, time, technique and team.   Give people a problem and context, so that they can work out the best solution.  Even if the answer is not perfect (or how you would have done it) the long-term impact on motivation and creativity will outweigh the cost.

You can test your, or your team’s autonomy with a few quick questions.

  1. How much autonomy do you have over your tasks at work – your main responsibilities and what you do on a given day?
  2. How much autonomy do you have over your time at work – for instance when you arrive, when you leave, and how you allocate your hours?
  3. How much autonomy do you have over your team at work – that is, to what extent are you able to choose the people with whom you typically collaborate?
  4. How much autonomy do you have over your technique at work – how you actually perform the main responsibilities of your job?


Mastery.  People take immense please in being good at something.  Giving people the opportunity to learn and grow is intrinsically rewarding.

The laws of mastery:

  • Mastery is a mindset.  You must believe your abilities are not fixed and that you can improve and adopt a ‘growth mindset
  • Mastery is pain.  It is painful exposing your weaknesses and asking for help to rectify them.
  • Mastery is oxygen of the soul.   Doing something very well is its own reward, something children are very good at, but adults have lost.

Daniel suggests five steps to mastery.

  • Deliberate practice.  Doing the same thing will not cut it, you have to experiment and get feedback.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition matters, once you have found something that works, do it over and over again.
  • Seek constant, critical feedback.  If you don’t know where you are going wrong, then
  • Focus ruthlessly on where you need help.  “Those that get better focus on their weaknesses” (this is interesting, as some new frameworks say you should focus on your strengths, see here).
  • Prepared to be exhausted.  It takes effort to focus and improve, your confidence and emotions will also take a knock, be prepared.


Purpose.     Repeatedly communicate the teams and company vision and purpose and link it to how everyone’s work,  ideally showing how each person impacts the customer.

Explain the why behind goals, ideas and processes (see Simon Senikc great Ted talk here) so that people can understand the intent and the larger goal.

Align those who provide advice and support to teams creating value, everything should work together to achieve the common goal.


What will I do differently as a result of this book?

This book is a great read and helps you explore the foundations which have helped some stella companies take over the world.

  • Be more aware of suppressing intrinsic motivation with extrinsic rewards, especially praise or rewards
  • Create an environment where individuals and teams can exercise autonomy, mastery and purpose.  To do this, I will focus on:
    • Providing problems or goals, not solutions so that people can figure out their own answer
    • Ask questions.  To avoid advice been taken as direction, as questions to guide, probe and validate.
    • Provide guardrails.  Autonomy needs alignment, so provide leaders and teams with the context to make great decisions
    • Prevent toxic ownership.  Autonomous teams should not solve problems in isolation.  While leaders are responsible for the solution, they will need to see advice (not permission) from outside the team
    • Creating paths to mastery in each role, so that people have a clear way to progress technically as well as managerially
    • Create an organisation which minimise dependencies between teams and with supporting functions.  Fewer hand-offs mean faster work, higher quality and greater ownership
    • Create a culture of trust – ‘innocent until proven guilty’.  Assume that individuals and teams are aligned and motivated.  While thinking and approach can be challenged, it should be assumed they the team is right
    • Coaching and support leaders and team members where I can
    • Connect team members other coaches and mentors for areas outside my expertise (see this article on ‘connector managers’ here)


You can buy ‘Drive’ here on Amazon UK.

all proceeds go to buying books and site upkeep, and any extra goes to veteran charities


The book provides a great summation of businesses thinkers that get it (p915), you can find more details on motivational theories at the Wikipedia link below.