Day 94: Drive, by Daniel Pink

Finished another book! That means it's...BOOK REVIEW TIME. Or at least BOOK-RELATED THOUGHTS TIME.

The book: Drive, by Daniel Pink.

This is a book I've been told to read 100,000 times, courtesy of the Infinite Bullshit Machine that is the internet. Recently it appeared on my Kindle courtesy of the reservations system in the Los Angeles Public Library System.

I keep flipping between thinking it's really interesting and powerful, and thinking it's as obvious as it gets.

The book is short; the premise is simple.

We need to get better at motivating ourselves, our employees, our children, etc. using intrinsic motivation, based on feelings of purpose, mastery and autonomy.

Great! I agree.

He shares a number of studies done by other people that are very interesting and very clearly capture what he's getting at:

Preschoolers who like to draw will indeed draw more if you pay them to do it. But afterward, they'll draw less in their free time.

Judging commissioned and non-commissioned artworks on a creativity scale indicates that non-commissioned (a.k.a. unrewarded) works are more creative than their commissioned counterparts.

And so on.

The thing that feels obvious about it: DUH. We all already know this.

Algorithmic vs. Heuristic tasks
He divides tasks into algorithmic--those that can be completed by following a predefined or clear path--and heuristic--creative tasks with open-ended results. Turns out that paying people to complete algorithmic tasks works. Paying people to complete heuristic tasks does not work. Offering a reward for heuristic tasks gives people tunnel vision and limits their ability to see the odd-ball or outside solutions. Anybody who has tried to force their brain through a difficult creative process (writing code, painting, naming a baby) is likely familiar with the feeling that you're wrestling with mud, not in mud. Meanwhile, even a difficult algorithmic process is relatively straightforward and doesn't require, say, long walks, time to think or other ridiculous but critical accompaniments to the artistic process.

Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy
Pink lists these three criteria as the main elements of intrinsic motivation. Knowing that a task is tied to a higher purpose, knowing that you are working toward mastery, and being able to choose the how/when/where/what/who of your work--these are the elements that will encourage intrinsic motivation.

Things I particularly liked:

Pink talks a LOT about open-source communities and also artists, which duh, I like that. He is looking for reasons behind the success of open-source projects, which typically have no external reward, and the increasing numbers of people who are disconnected and unhappy in their work. He then explains ways that companies have used these factors to motivate employees, increase profits, yadda yadda.

Anyway, the thing I'm really interested in is this: How can I, as an individual, increase my sense of intrinsic motivation? We've all struggled with motivation and just yesterday I wrote about the stick of laziness we use to berate ourselves. As I've gotten older/calmer/more well rested, I've begun to hear that voice that tells me what I should do and why. The less I'm in a situation where I have to give away my own autonomy, the more my whole life works well.

What else is interesting: The idea that, to take advantage of intrinsic motivation, you do have to pay someone enough to take the money off the table. If a person is concerned that they are not getting paid fairly or equitably, they will be demotivated and there's little you can do to fix that.

It reminds me of a video I was shown at my work-study orientation at Macalester, and again at a job a handful of years later. It's a video about the importance of bringing a sense of play to your work. Mostly what I remember was the basic message of: "If these Pike's Place Fisherman can have such a good time literally throwing dead fish at each other, surely you can manage to have a tiny bit of fun at your job."

The people showing this video were well meaning! The video isn't wrong! I remember thinking, "Yes, that is what I should do". But there's something about the fact of being herded into a dark room and made to watch a video that just dampens any part of you that wants to participate. Maybe if we'd all been given time to find ways to make work fun for ourselves, maybe if we were given autonomy, maybe if there was a sense that we could learn new things and achieve mastery, maybe then it would have worked.

I don't blame the people who showed me this. They were trying.

Here's the other thing I'm working through:

In Your Money or Your Life, the authors make a convincing case that the point of paid employment is to get paid. That's it.

Yes, a job can give you all kinds of other things: A social network, purpose, etc. But you can also get those things outside of paying employment. The only thing that really distinguishes paid employment is that you get paid there.

They don't go on to argue that you should ONLY get paid there, but that treating your work as a thing that gets you money is a-okay. Work does not have to fulfill every last part of your life. Work is not Prince Charming coming to save you.

As an artist and self-employed type, it's a tough line to swallow. Artists are undervalued so often and much for the work they do and the skills they have. I have elected to work for myself rather than work in less-than-awesome environments, and some part of me believes there IS a Job Charming out there.

The easiest thing here is to say that it's okay to not get paid for my art, but if that's what is happening, I need to get paid elsewhere.

Anyway, it is hard for me and for most of us to just go to a money-making gig--but here's the trick: Your Money Or Your Life is already giving you a higher purpose for that work--your eventual financial independence. Because you're not seeking to find yourself in your employment but to find yourself in independence, it's okay to detach your self-identity from work.

And then Drive provides the other half--as long as you're being paid enough to take the money off the table, it's up to you to find ways to bring mastery and autonomy to your day whenever possible. Maybe you can't make your own schedule, but you usually can find ways to make your tasks your own.

Not the most coherent analysis, but there's a lot to chew on here and well, the day is ending. If you've struggled with the laziness business I wrote about yesterday, you might find it a quick and productive read. Or you can just watch this video and get like 80% of the book:


Hey! It would be useful to know what you're interested in. So vote for what you like!