While late to the party a bit, I recently finished Daniel Pink’s Drive. It’s a breakthrough book for leaders in all fields and anyone who cares about motivating employees. He consistently riffs off a classic truism that human beings are more productive when given intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic motivators. Fortunately, Pink puts some meat on the motivational bone by citing numerous psychological studies as well as personal experience, while maintaining a colloquial approach throughout.


Every organization engages in some form of goal setting. There is little debate on the efficacy of this exercise but Pink states a warning that goals set by others, such as sales targets, quarterly returns, or standardized test scores in the education field, can lead to a narrowed focus and decreased intrinsic motivation. However, goals that employees set for themselves and are devoted to mastery work can be powerful and effective.


Capitalism is an American standard. Children are taught that the growth of our country was based on manifest destiny and the quest for fortune. How was the West won? Primarily through the ingenuity and hard work of those seeking gold we opened up the West and changed the course of human history. Children are raised believing that our country is run on the spirit of profit. Pink counters this by citing research that positive feedback can be more valuable than gold. Intrinsic rewards are much stronger than extrinsic rewards. Granted, there are some situations where extrinsic rewards may work as a small “booster shot”, especially for routine tasks that don’t require a high level of creativity. But Pink believes that any extrinsic reward should be unexpected and given only when a task is complete. When money is used as an extrinsic reward, subjects lose interest for the activity after some time. Cash is a short term boost like energy drinks.


The carrot and stick philosophy has been an established standard. Its origin comes from the donkey moving toward the carrot dangled in front of him as a reward while being scared of the threatening stick at his rear. There are clearly better ways to motivate people. Pink cites the Google 20% Program which gives Google employees the freedom to use up to 20% of their work time to develop projects that they may not get to in the normal course of their job. Gmail and Google News have both come from that 20% time. Another company developed a similar program they call FedEx Days which challenges employees to develop an project “overnight”. This task creates camaraderie among the staff as they work toward a common goal. Pink also cites the rise of software projects that are “open source”, available for anyone to use and completely free. These developers have an innate desire to be autonomous and creative and while the profit motive may come into play down the road, for now they are thrilled to see their efforts result in scores of happy computer users.


So what is the implication for leaders? Pink insists that management is not about making sure people are working in their offices (the stick) or flashing cash rewards for increased profits (the carrot). Instead, managers need to create conditions for their employees to maximize their own creativity. Humans need to be self-determined; Pink cites three innate psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When these needs are met, we are happy.

2 comments Add yours
  1. Wow, I could not agree more. Healthcare managers set goals and expect therapist to buy into their thinking. Too bad because when they do include their staff in on the planning, wonderful things emerge. Thank s for sharing this Bill. As a principal, how do you meet your employees need for competence, autonomy and relatedness?

    1. The key to success in any organization is empowering employees by building leadership and encouraging creativity. Of course, it means hiring people who have leadership skills, are self-starters, and eager to be continuous learners too. I hope your managers are including you in the planning! Great hearing from you Karen.

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