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Published May 5, 2020 Updated September 4, 2021
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Drive by Daniel Pink

Drive by Daniel Pink was published at the end of 2009, and since I read it a year later, I’ve not been able to stop talking or thinking about it. The ideas explained in Drive are constantly on my mind, are the thing I crave the most, and what I try to instill in others as a leader.

This amazing book helped me figure out who I am, what motivates me, and what I want to achieve in this life. In fact, Drive is the very reason this site, Alchemists, came into being as a place to record my personal journey, including my evolution from open source work to public speaking and eventual teaching in the form of articles and screencasts.

Which is not to say Drive's effect on my life has been purely positive! In most ways a blessing, the curse has been knowing such an ideal conception of work is possible and being unable for whatever reason to find or create that ideal in today’s software culture.

At one point in my career, I had the opportunity to build a company with Drive at the center of the culture…​only to see the startup fail. Not due to the culture and Extreme Ownership, which were built into the foundation, but instead because of poor financial management. Unfortunately, poor leadership and failure to focus on the individual people who make it possible for the company to succeed are common problems. Pink even hints at the failures of such short-sighted leadership in the book. For my part, though, I’m trying to spread the message of Drive as often as I can to whoever I can, despite the inevitable setbacks involved in trying to change a culture and industry as a whole.

The following are notes from the book which follows a loose outline of the book. As always, what strikes me as profound might not be the same for you so I encourage you to buy and read the book for yourself. Enjoy!

Introduction

When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity — Edward Deci

Rewards can deliver a short-term boost—just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off—and, worse, can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.

Before going further, let’s define the three major versions of motivational thinking. Pink breaks them down as follows:

  • Motivation 1.0.0 - Born of necessity where we fought to survive as we hunted and gathered food, searched for shelter, and procreated.

  • Motivation 2.0.0 - Arose once we had evolved as a society to move past basic needs such as food and shelter. At this version, the idea was that once survival needs are met, further motivation required a carrot-and-stick approach where extrinsic rewards — such as higher pay for higher output — would keep people motivated. This thinking lasted for a long time and came to great prominence during the Industrial Revolution, the result of which is a world where employees were placed in cubicles, assigned repeatable tasks, and measured on consistent output in order to achieve higher pay. While long-lived, this concept has major downsides. Namely, the instability of the approach in the long run.

  • Motivation 3.0.0 - The new motivational thinking, which is the basis for much of the book, is backed by modern science and new research. This new version of motivational thinking flips the previous version around by focusing on Type I (intrinsic) instead of Type X (extrinsic) behavior.

With the above in mind, you’ll have enough context to dive into the following sections.

A New Operating System

Our current operating system has become far less compatible with, and at times downright antagonistic to: how we organize what we do; how we think about what we do; and how we do what we do.

How We Organize What We Do

Drive provides several example of organizations that have broken the mold by incentivizing maximum purpose rather than maximum profit:

The book points out the following organizations that have broken the mold in terms of not being incentivized by maximizing profit but maximizing purpose which I whole heartily agree with:

  • Wikipedia - An example of an open source business, where the majority of the site’s contributions have been provided by people around the globe and in multiple languages — for free. Most of the site has been built and paid for out of its participants' motivation to contribute and give back to society. Such a motivation is intrinsic.

  • Mozilla - Organized as a for benefit organization.

  • Low-Profit Limited Liability Company (L3C) - Primarily focuses on social benefits to society while generating modest profits.

  • B Corporation - Focuses on long-term social impact and value instead of short-term economic profit.

This new way of organizing what we do doesn’t banish extrinsic rewards. People in the open-source movement haven’t taken vows of poverty. For many, participation in these projects can burnish their reputations and sharpen their skills, which can enhance their earning power.

Based on this Motivation 3.0.0 model, one of the questions I ask when hiring someone is exactly this: "What are you working on that keeps you up at night or on the weekends?" After all, the best engineers that I’ve worked with are curious and passionate, people who are always digging deep into problems they want to solved either for themselves or the company they work for. Either way, they are driven by the endless quest to get better at what they do.

Ultimately, open source depends on intrinsic motivation with the same ferocity that older business models rely on extrinsic motivation, as several scholars have shown. MIT management professor Karim Lakhani and Boston Consulting Group consultant Bob Wolf surveyed 684 open-source developers, mostly in North America and Europe, about why they participated in these projects. Lakhani and Wolf uncovered a range of motives, but they found "that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver." A large majority of programmers, the researchers discovered, reported that they frequently reached the state of optimal challenge called "flow." Likewise, three German economists who studied open-source projects around the world found that what drives participants is "a set of predominantly intrinsic motives"—in particular, "the fun . . . of mastering the challenge of a given software problem" and the "desire to give a gift to the programmer community." Motivation 2.0 has little room for these sorts of impulses.

Again, note the emphasis on intrinsic motivation versus the old school thinking of external reward such as money, prizes, etc.

How We Think About What We Do

Consider some of our other bizarre behaviors. We leave lucrative jobs to take low-paying ones that provide a clearer sense of purpose. We work to master the clarinet on weekends although we have little hope of making a dime (Motivation 2.0) or acquiring a mate (Motivation 1.0) from doing so. We play with puzzles even when we don’t get a few raisins or dollars for solving them.

Pink goes on to explain that economics is more about the study of human behavior than money and our motivations, despite the common assumption that we are rational in how we calculate our financial self-interest. The truth is actually more irrational.

How We Do What We Do

Pink breaks this down into two categories based on behavior science:

  • Algorithmic - An established set of instructions is followed down a single path to a resulting conclusion. Example: Packing for a camping trip where you need the same gear to be present each time.

  • Heuristic - Requires figuring out a novel solution based on research, experimentation, and past experience — which includes — software engineering when working with a new service or technology. The solution is not always clear so you have to experiment and learn how everything works before devising a valid solution.

Routine work can be outsourced or automated; artistic, empathic, nonroutine work generally cannot.

Routine, not-so-interesting jobs require direction; nonroutine, more interesting work depends on self-direction.

Less Of What We Want

The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.

Rewards can perform a weird sort of behavioral alchemy: They can transform an interesting task into a drudge. They can turn play into work. And by diminishing intrinsic motivation, they can send performance, creativity, and even upstanding behavior toppling like dominoes.

Intrinsic Motivation

As one leading behavioral science textbook puts it, "People use rewards expecting to gain the benefit of increasing another person’s motivation and behavior, but in so doing, they often incur the unintentional and hidden cost of undermining that person’s intrinsic motivation toward the activity." This is one of the most robust findings in social science—and also one of the most ignored.

Note: Also known as as "if-then" rewards.

High Performance

Based on various studies and research and contrary to popular opinion, Pink explains that large financial incentives do not equate to high performance. In fact, the opposite is far more likely where lower performance will be the end result instead.

Creativity

There is a great example in the book called the candle problem which requires heuristic thinking rather than algorithmic thinking to solve the problem. When people were split into two groups, the ones with monetary incentive to succeed would fair worse than the group given no incentives at all. Both groups were timed but the pressure to perform quickly for a financial reward would cloud the creative thinking necessary to see the solution faster.

As corollary to the above, so much of the hiring process in the softare industry is forcing the applicant to solve a problem in a set amount of time. I always call this the "gun to the head" interview because the timer is counting down to when you’ll lose the opportunity altogether. You want to show off your skills but you are strapped because you:

  • Have a limited amount of time to solve the problem.

  • Don’t have access to your own tools or, worse, all tools are taken away completely.

  • Don’t have access to your personal notes, references material, or even internet searches, tools used on the job every day.

Our greatest asset is our mind and the ability to think creatively. Stifling creativity with purely algorithmic thinking deprives us from solving heuristic/creative problems effectively because actual day-to-day life is hardly ever like the demands of the typical "gun to the head" software interview.

Anyway, Pink goes on to say:

How much faster did the incentivized group come up with a solution? On average, it took them nearly three and a half minutes longer. Yes, three and a half minutes longer. (Whenever I’ve relayed these results to a group of businesspeople, the reaction is almost always a loud, pained, involuntary gasp.)

Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster. But "if-then" motivators are terrible for challenges like the candle problem. As this experiment shows, the rewards narrowed people’s focus and blinkered the wide view that might have allowed them to see new uses for old objects.

For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation—the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing—is essential for high levels of creativity. But the "if-then" motivators that are the staple of most businesses often stifle, rather than stir, creative thinking.

Good Behavior

By neglecting the ingredients of genuine motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—they limit what each of us can achieve.

More of What We Don’t Want

Unethical Behavior

Goals that people set for themselves and that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy. But goals imposed by others—sales targets, quarterly returns, standardized test scores, and so on—can sometimes have dangerous side effects.

The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road.

In fact, the business school professors suggest [goals] should come with their own warning label: "Goals may cause systematic problems for organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation. Use care when applying goals in your organization."

Addiction

Monetary rewards, like drug additions, can lead to side effects where people become enthralled in the quest to keep achieving those financial rewards. Worse, the rewards might need to be increased in order to encourage more of the same behavior. That cycle is both bad for the individual working towards the reward and for those who are handing them out.

I’ve seen this effect, personally, in several forms:

  1. Yearly bonuses and salary increases - In my early years and an engineer, I’d receive massive bonuses and significant salary jumps for putting in long hours. Sadly, I wasn’t working smarter, only harder. This destructive reward system took a heavy toll on me, leading to burnout and eventually leaving the company.

  2. Quarterly bonuses for code metrics - These bonuses were awarded to the team for having high numbers in terms of code quality, code coverage, etc. However, corners were constantly cut in order to achieve these numbers, which was the opposite of the original intent. Those bonuses created unethical behavior and also sculpted a team addiction to hit those numbers no matter what - including some pretty intense peer pressure.

  3. Half-year bonuses for client performance - In this case the incentive was to make our clients happy by doing whatever was necessary. The problem was the staff worked across different clients and everyone was isolated to some extent, but everyone across the company had to be doing well or no one got anything. The pressure was the same as mentioned in with quarterly bonuses, albeit more abstract. It didn’t seem right to punish the staff as a whole should we not reach the goal.

Short-Term Thinking

Rewards, we’ve seen, can limit the breadth of our thinking. But extrinsic motivators—especially tangible, "if-then" ones—can also reduce the depth of our thinking. They can focus our sights on only what’s immediately before us rather than what’s off in the distance.

Unethical and addictive behavior are aspects of short-term thinking.

CARROTS AND STICKS: The Seven Deadly Flaws

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.

  2. They can diminish performance.

  3. They can crush creativity.

  4. They can crowd out good behavior.

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

  6. They can become addictive.

  7. They can foster short-term thinking.

Special Circumstances

Special circumstances do exist in which routine tasks benefit from extrinsic rewards such as money, trophies, etc. These situations happen when the task at hand is quite procedural and requires little creative thought and/or focus. Three guidelines exist when requesting mundane tasks:

  • Offer a rationale for why the task is necessary. A job that’s not inherently interesting can become more meaningful, and therefore more engaging, if it’s part of a larger purpose.

  • Acknowledge that the task is boring. This is an act of empathy, of course, and the acknowledgment will help people understand why this is the rare instance when "if-then" rewards are part of how your organization operates.

  • Allow people to complete the task their own way. Think about autonomy, not control. State the outcome you need, but instead of specifying precisely the way to reach it. Give them freedom over how they do the job.

As an essential requirement, to the above, in order to not hamper intrinsic motivation:

Any extrinsic reward should be unexpected and offered only after the task is complete.

Two additional guidelines support the above:

  1. Nontangible Rewards - Can be kudos and recognition for a job well done.

  2. Useful Information - Provide constructive feedback afterwards because good people are always looking to do better. Providing this kind of feedback will motivate them further.

Type I and Type X

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

Type X behavior is fueled more by extrinsic desires than intrinsic ones. It concerns itself less with the inherent satisfaction of an activity and more with the external rewards to which that activity leads.

Type I behavior is fueled more by intrinsic desires than extrinsic ones. It concerns itself less with the external rewards to which an activity leads and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself.

Type I’s almost always outperform Type X’s in the long run. Intrinsically motivated people usually achieve more than their reward-seeking counterparts. Alas, that’s not always true in the short term. An intense focus on extrinsic rewards can indeed deliver fast results. The trouble is, this approach is difficult to sustain. And it doesn’t assist in mastery—which is the source of achievement over the long haul. The most successful people, the evidence shows, often aren’t directly pursuing conventional notions of success. They’re working hard and persisting through difficulties because of their internal desire to control their lives, learn about their world, and accomplish something that endures.

Type I Guidelines:

  • Does not disdain money or recognition.

  • Is a renewable resource.

  • Promotes greater physical and mental well-being.

Ultimately, Type I behavior depends on three nutrients: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Type I behavior is self-directed. It is devoted to becoming better and better at something that matters. And it connects that quest for excellence to a larger purpose.

Some might dismiss notions like these as gooey and idealistic, but the science says otherwise. The science confirms that this sort of behavior is essential to being human.

The Three Elements

  • Autonomy

  • Mastery

  • Purpose

Autonomy

Autonomy is based on Motivation 3.0.0 thinking in which people want to be held accountable and recognized versus Motivation 2.0.0 thinking, where it is assumed people want to skirt accountability in order to be lazy and avoid work. The latter is a context of control, which is the opposite of autonomy.

Type I behavior emerges when people have autonomy over the four T’s: their task, their time, their technique, and their team.

  • Task - Requires allowing one to choose or devise the task to be completed including one’s own organization, management, and execution of the task.

  • Time - Requires one to determine the hours they’ll work, including whether they’d be continuous, broken up in chunks, offset by early mornings or late evenings. Whatever the schedule, as long as quality work is delivered, it doesn’t matter when someone chooses to work.

  • Technique - Requires having the creative freedom to determine how you’ll perform and complete your work, including your process, style of operation, tools and any kind of augmentation left totally up to you. Examples:

    • When hiring at Zappos, they train people for a week and then pay them to leave if the company believes they won’t make the cut. This early honesty and respect helps incentivize those not invested in the company to cut their losses and leave early.

    • JetBlue uses homeshoring so all customer service representatives work from home in order to reduce commutes, office space, and improve employee quality of life.

  • Team - Requires allowing individuals to self organize and form their own teams. This is often harder to do because most organizations force new hires into inherited teams. However, letting people self organize leads to more empowered teams, productivity, and better results.

The components of autonomy will differ per individual so it’s important to understand what drives each member of your team in order empower them to be awesome.

Mastery

Mastery is deep engagement in the craft, that flow state where time passes quickly and self-conciseness dissolves. The goal is to constantly be getting better at the craft and have the journey be the reward rather than the destination. This is flow was written about by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

In flow, people lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away. They were autonomous, of course. But more than that, they were engaged.

Flow is oxygen for the soul.

A study of 11,000 industrial scientists and engineers working at companies in the United States found that the desire for intellectual challenge—that is, the urge to master something new and engaging—was the best predictor of productivity. Scientists motivated by this intrinsic desire filed significantly more patents than those whose main motivation was money, even controlling for the amount of effort each group expended. (That is, the extrinsically motivated group worked as long and as hard as their more Type I colleagues. They just accomplished less—perhaps because they spent less of their work time in flow.)

There are three laws to obtaining mastery:

  • Mastery is a Mindset - We are what we believe and those beliefs are what help shape what we can achieve. We achieve mastery by being open minded and keeping a learning mindset. In this context, failure is only a guide post for learning something new and a stepping stone to achieve what we want. This is the opposite of thinking intelligence is fixed and any effort to get better is not worthwhile.

  • Mastery is a Pain - It cannot be achieved without grit, which is the perseverance, dedication, and passion in achieve long-term goals. It takes a lot effort to pull this off and deep states of flow help one get through these mundane and grueling points in time.

  • Mastery is an Asymptote - As in the world of math, mastery is a straight line that continually approaches a given curve but never meets at any finite distance. This is the joy of mastery where you’ll never be able to achieve but always pursue in hopes of raising the bar higher each time.

Work can often have the structure of other autotelic experiences: clear goals, immediate feedback, challenges well matched to our abilities. And when it does, we don’t just enjoy it more, we do it better. That’s why it’s so odd that organizations tolerate work environments that deprive large numbers of people of these experiences.

The days that people make progress are the days they feel most motivated and engaged. By creating conditions for people to make progress, shining a light on that progress, recognizing and celebrating progress, organizations can help their own cause and enrich people’s lives.

Purpose

The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.

Many entrepreneurs, executives, and investors are realizing that the best performing companies stand for something and contribute to the world.

  • Goals - Profit becomes the catalyst, not the objective, in which to achieve ethical, law-abiding, and secure ways to benefit humanity as a whole.

  • Words - Words matter which is why the Engineer’s Oath exists. Words can stir in one’s soul a deeper meaning of what it means to be an engineer in terms of trust, truth, honor, justice, joy, and grace.

  • Policies - Consider 20% time where people have autonomy to pursue grander goals in 1/5 of their work. Whatever you do, don’t limit this free time to checklists or a lists of tasks, which can destroy good intentions. The policies you write have to support and reflect the goals and words provided.

The Type I Toolkit

There are a lot of tools in this section of Drive worth digging into and encourage you to explore this more to figure out what best fits your own motivations. These are the tools I use most often:

Flow Test

In the book, there are series of questions worth asking and keeping tabs on, and I’ve found that practice very valuable. I’ve used different metrics for measuring my situation over the years. Sometimes it’s a journal entry, a checklist, or a combination of both. Either way, these notes allow me to keep tabs on my day and energy so I can think about what to do next. This is especially important when working on something new, changing jobs, taking the pulse of your current situation, etc. Here’s an example format worth doing from time to time:

When Where Who +/- Notes

2020-01-15 09:00:00

Work

Me

+

No distractions for past two hours, completed feature work.

2020-01-15 13:00:00

Work

Vern + Me

-

Interrupted by false emergency meeting.

2020-01-15 16:00:00

Work

Me

-

Strapped with production issue. Very stressful.

Big Question

Drive provides examples and content but the big question distills your purpose and mission in life to a single sentence. It took me a while to find mine — I definitely didn’t have a solid grasp when I first read the book — but my one-sentence mission has definitely solidified within the past decade.

Whatever it is that motivates and defines your purpose in life, make sure to write it down. Let this sentence be a guiding reminder should you falter and need to course correct.

Small Question

The flip side of the big question is that achieving your purpose in life is a marathon. So at the end of the day, ask yourself if you were a little better than the day before. Whether positive or negative, write your answer down and reflect upon it.

Take a Sagmeister

Named after the guy who came up with the idea, a Sagmeister is taking a year long sabbatical from paid work. So instead of waiting for retirement, this encourages you use some of it early while you have your youth. I’d love to take a Sagmeister but haven’t yet pulled it off.

Avoidances

Make a list of things you don’t want to do or don’t want to repeat so you don’t get stuck in a rut or a pattern that is harmful to your purpose. This list can be just as powerful as your list of tasks you want to accomplish.

Deliberate Practice

As mentioned earlier, the path to mastery is a long one, takes time, and repetition. I use OmniFocus to keep track of my high level objectives as well as the low level minutia but always have weekly personal objectives I’m trying to hit. Usually this is focused around a new tool to augment my workflow, and new skillset, and/or a book that I’m learning from.

Autonomy Audit

Good questions to ask of yourself, and worth getting insight about from your team, include:

  1. How much autonomy do you have over your tasks at work—your main responsibilities and what you do in 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 each day?

  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

Reich’s Pronoun Test

A quick and simple test in which Pink references Robert Reich's trick of listening how company staff uses pronouns when speaking about work. Use of "they" can signal danger and "we" signal a healthy culture when talking about the company. This is so ingrained in me at this point that I detect it almost immediately.

Design For The 85 Percent

Due to the nature of my work and the city I live in, I inevitably end up working in startups, though I’ve worked for mid-sized companies and large corporations as well. Unfortunately, one of my main reasons for leaving a job is the problem of Design for the 85 Percent, where these companies have built their practices around the lower 15%. They don’t think of their staff as assets but instead view them as potential liabilities, security risks, etc. They worry about harmful outliers while the majority of their staff wants to do professional and high quality work and instead feel denigrated. Pink describes these practices as "autonomy-crushing restrictions" and I completely agree as I know too well as to how this feels. Here are a few examples, from personal experience:

  • Mandatory software updates where operating system and patch-level updates are forced on a regular basis. In one of my worst experiences, this would cause my machine to reboot in the middle of deep work or display a countdown timer for when the machine would automatically reboot. In some cases, work was lost. You eventually learn how to mitigate the damage but cost to morale and the extra time required to get work done in such situations is expensive in the long term.

  • Mandatory machine bootstrapping where you are given a machine and then instructed to run an entire suite of tooling to configure your environment to the corporate environment. You don’t get any say in the matter, nor do you get to use the tooling you are most skilled with to do your job.

  • Mandatory operating system and application software updates. If you thought the above was bad, this combination takes the cake. Not only do you not have any control over the maintenance of your machine, but you also can’t uninstall unwanted/unused software. The system will force this software to be reinstalled, plus whenever the system or applications have a software update, the system plows through right in the middle of your work.

  • Mandatory machine backups. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with backups. I have automated backups running on all of my machines several times a day. It’s a good practice. Where this goes completely wrong is when the company forces backup software upon you and the data, which is your data, is kept via their own cloud storage.

  • Mandatory notifications. I’m completely beside myself when unnecessary notifications are forced upon anyone. The last thing I ever want of my team is for them to be interrupted by events that don’t require immediate attention. You sometimes see this when using Slack, where the administrator has disabled the ability to mute channels. The worst is when macOS notifications for specific apps are disabled so you can’t edit them and are forced to receive notifications no matter what.

I’ve never believed in or enforced the above restrictions on the teams I have managed in the past. Instead, what I’m always looking for is an engineer that believes in the mission, craft, and has their own augmented workflow. This might be shown in their own open source work, machine configuration, and/or personal settings, but whatever the case may be, I want their best selves to come to the job. In those rare situations where a bad apple is detected on the team, then Extreme Ownership is a necessary to remove the individual from the team and keep the culture healthy.

Get Agile

While I don’t agree with all of the points in the Agile Manifesto, I definitely agree with the following, which Pink highlights as well:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Start Small

When in a dire situation, the best way to be an agent of change and fight for a better future is to start with incremental changes. This approach usually means bending the rules, working outside the box, and in many cases applying workarounds to harmful restrictions, looking to make the situation, if not ideal, at least better in small, tangible ways. When in situations like this, Pink suggests the following steps:

  1. Ask the right question - Find the pain points are, low hanging fruit, etc. and focus on solving those first.

  2. Be strategically subversive - Through wit and sheer determination, figure out how to solve the big problems by delivering on the little problems. Then broadcast those wins and be silent on the failures.

  3. Emphasize results - In order to gain more autonomy, mastery, and purpose, you’ll need to lead with facts and figures that give examples of your successes. This might mean improving application performance, correcting a memory leak, exhibiting a lower amount of bugs than others, etc.