Reading Notes: Drive

July 16, 2019

My summary of Drive, a book by Daniel H. Pink that explores motivation, especially in creative work.

Problems with reward / punishment approaches to motivation

After being offered a reward for some activity, people lose their intrinsic interest in it.

Existing motivation frameworks fail to explain things like Wikipedia and open source, where people work for the feeling of creativity and other intrinsic rewards rather than external rewards or punishments. External rewards work well for rote tasks, but they undermine people's motivations to do creative, higher-level work.

Rewards turn play into work. Doing a task to receive a reward represents a loss of autonomy ("I'm doing it because you're paying me, not because I choose to"). Doing a task for compensation can "crowd out" other, more powerful motivators like altruism (paying people to donate blood results in fewer donations) and curiosity. Pay a kid to take out the trash and he'll never do it, or other chores, for free again. When working just to receive a reward, people will cheat, lie, cut corners, and do the minimum required to get the reward.

Punishments can work in the same counter-intuitive way. Make parents pay a fine for being late to pick up their kids from daycare, and instead of showing up on time because they want to be fair and responsible, they show up late because paying the fine to gain time is worth it.

Rewards, besides being poor motivators, also reduce the quality of work. Focus on a reward limits breadth of creativity and encourages risky behavior as well as short-term thinking.

What works

Rewards can work well for routine tasks that have few intrinsic motivators.

For creative work, the best rewards are unexpected and come in the form of praise and useful feedback.

People want to feel competent, autonomous and connected. Satisfying these desires is the key to being motivated and happy at work. People who are inherently motivated to fulfill these desires tend to be more successful in the long run than those who seek external rewards.


Judge people based on their results. Focus on the job that needs to get done, not mandating how, where, or when it does; let people choose that themselves.

Autonomy means freedom to experiment with new ideas, to direct one's work and to act with choice. It does not mean working alone or in a vacuum. Support autonomy by giving feedback and helping people come up with options, then encouraging them to choose their own path.


Pursuit of mastery is important not only for personal fulfillment, but also for having a chance at finding good work. External rewards don't encourage this pursuit.

States of flow are where we experience greatest satisfaction. Flow requires a clear goal, immediate feedback, and a task that forces us to stretch our abilities without being too difficult.

Intelligence is something that can be developed, but only if you have that mindset and approach. Set goals that enforce learning, not achievement. Grit predicts eventual mastery better than anything else. (Though there are some problems with grit not addressed by the author.)


Achieving extrinsic goals (wanting to make a certain amount of money) has been shown to not bring happiness, and people who set extrinsic goals have higher levels of anxiety and depression. Purpose is better at driving us to achieve, and rewards us more when we do. Fundraising volunteers raised twice as much when reading brief stories about the people who received the money they raised before their shift.

Pay people well and get the compensation issue out of the way. Money is demotivating when used as a motivator.