Read: Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Pink’s Drive is about motivation in the workplace and yet I have a feeling that he does not know the typical workplace or the dominant type of jobs in the developed world. Or, that the book is not about motivation in the workplace after all.

He gets a lot of things right. There are two very different types of jobs. One type consists of mainly routine work, the other is of mainly creative (problem solving) nature. He correctly identifies the categories of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic, that can be improved by different measures each and that can be linked more successfully to either the routine or the creative type of work. Further, he identifies three motivators that are particularly important for intrinsic motivation: Autonomy (People like to have control over their work), Mastery (People like to get better at what they do), and Purpose (People like to be part of something that is bigger than they are). 

Finally, he correctly points out that extrinsic incentives may have adverse effects on intrinsic motivation.

Pink, however, fails in several other important aspects.

Routine work still needs to be done. Outsourcing does not help. Somebody still has to do the work. Even if job growth is faster for creative jobs nowadays, routine work is a dominant part of work in public administration and public enterprises. Not every job can be re-designed to emphasize the creative part. Consequently, just for this reason alone relying on intrinsic motivation cannot be an universal solution. In short, I think he grossly overstated the relevance of creative jobs.

Second, extrinsic motivation is not just money. There is at least praise, promotion (ok this is money in the end), reputation and the admiration of peers. How do they interact with the different types of work and motivation? Not a single word. How do extrinsic and intrinsic motivation complement each other? Not a single word. In short, he grossly understated the relevance of extrinsic motivation.

Third, his exposition is very unbalanced and lop-sided. If he mentions studies he ignores results that do not support his point. Studies that show the success of extrinsic rewards are not mentioned. They do not support his point. If he concedes that certain extrinsic incentives can be effective he fails to explain to what extend and when this is true . His book is full of inconsistencies. Why do most “flow” experiences (this is something good) happen at work if the workplace is dominated by the horrid carrots and sticks, if-then rewards? Why are the free time for creativity programs only implemented for certain types of employees, i.e. the engineers? Inconvenient truths are sometimes alluded to, never are they discussed in detail.

In the end, Drive is more like a self-help book and about personal development and not about the workplace and how to implement more successful personnel strategies. Indeed, a major part of the book contains a toolkit for self-improvement and ancedotes and conservation starters. The book is about something that fascinated the author. It is not about enlightening the reader.

There was nothing really surprising (except the lopsidedness) and Pink does not offer the (whole) truth. This is really a pity as Pink certainly is a skilled author and the topic is important.