October 18

What you could learn from ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink (2011, 256 pages)

Why do people leave one company for another?  Why do people dedicate their lives to work or the pursuit of a life-long goal?  Motivation theory has evolved a long way since Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see here).  In his book ‘Drive’ Daniel Pink argues that there are three drivers of motivation:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose


Autonomy is the desire to have control over your work and life.  Simply it means less structure and fewer rules, which increase ownership and motivation.

Rules build up over time, so you must add structure, process and rules carefully – principles are better than checklists, checklists are better than policies, and policies are better than procedures.  Take care to occasionally scrub the ‘barnacles off the boat’, and remove process and rules that no longer apply, or are damaging autonomy.


Mastery is the desire to better yourself.  Athletes work for decades to compete at the Olympic.  Authors and painters strive to achieve distinction.   Throughout history, people have sought to master their trade, their work or their hobby.

There is a natural desire to be good at something, and improvement creates a positive feedback loop.  Providing opportunities for people to improve will kick-start this positive cycle into a self-sustaining quest for excellence.


Purpose is understanding how your works fit into the ‘big picture’.  People need to see a link between what they are doing and something changing in the real world.

Having a positive impact on society has been shown to have an even greater impact on motivation, so link company objectives directly to team objectives, and celebrate when their work positively impacts the company and the customer.


Risks of autonomy, mastery & purpose

Autonomy, mastery & purpose will not work everywhere.  It is unlikely to work if transplanted into a large organisation as large risk/compliance functions and middle managers will seek to exert control, even at the expense of customers and the business.  Autonomy without alignment or boundaries will also end badly, without a good understanding of context teams may ‘go rouge’, so you need to build in monitoring or ‘checking-in’ mechanisms (such as Sprint Reviews).


What will I do differently after reading this book?

  • Discretionary time.  Give people complete control over some of their time.  3M did this originally, HP soon followed and recently Google ‘20% time’
  • Give up control.  Allow individuals and teams control over their work, for example:
    • Setting their own goals
    • Changing their working patterns/environment
    • Make it clear what decisions people can take, and try to push decisions down to the lowest level
  • Goldilocks tasks.  Try to ensure that your team get tasks that are not too hard and not too easy.  They need to be challenged and stretched, but not into a panic.
  • Zero-based process design.  Design your processes from scratch and ask ‘is this good enough’ rather than ‘how does this compare to our current process’ (if you do the later you will never remove
  • Invest in personal and professional development.  Kick-start the positive cycle of improvement by providing good training and coaching.


You can buy Drive here on Amazon UK (all proceeds go to site upkeep, with any extra going to veteran charities).