Book Report: Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

Instinctually, many of us may think that motivation at work is driven by money. Or maybe power. Or, in the case of some of us (ah hem) the mission of the organization for which we are working.

Daniel Pink, a smarty-pants lawyer-turned-motivation-researcher has spent four decades researching the idea of motivation. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he shares his findings about motivation which boils down to three main factors:

  • The ability to direct our own lives, which he calls “autonomy”
  • The ability, freedom, and space to learn and create new things, which he calls “purpose”
  • The ability to do better by ourselves and our world, which he calls “mastery”

So, what does this mean for you and the teams you manage? Mainly, I think it means making space for you and your teams to engage in your work in those three ways. How can you help your team members to build their autonomy, purpose, and mastery?

This book, and the third factor in the list above, inspired me to integrate one super simple practice into my every-day management style. When I delegate tasks or make an ask of my team, I gave them a compelling “why” that is linked to the bigger picture of our work–why what we were doing was going to make the world better.

Now, let’s say that I was asking my team to do something mundane, like, say submit their milage report. How in the world would I be able to link that to saving the world? I admit that at the start of my practice, I had difficulty linking tasks like this to our mission. With practice, I became a pro. So, for this example, I would tell my team that by submitting their milage reports we could assure our donors and funders that we were responsible stewards of their donation, that we actually were doing consistent and meaningful work in the community, and that our timely report submission was a sign of our respect for them.

Pink fights against theories that folks are motivated “extrinsically” with  short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes and the traditional carrot-stick motivation and punishment.  Pink writes that those extrinsic motivators “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.” That reduction in long-term motivation is partially due to the waining intrinsic motivation BECAUSE OF the extrinsic motivator–it is a vicious cycle once extrinsic motivators are introduced.

I found two of Pink’s illustrative examples particularly compelling. Swedish blood banks decided to change things up and pay people to donate blood. They anticipated that their blood bank would be filled to the brim. In fact, they saw blood donations plummet. Why? Well, you may have guessed…turns out we are motivated to donate blood out of the goodness of our hearts and not for literal blood money. The good Swedes are motivated intrinsically, not extrinsically. The second example that I found compelling was about Encarta. Remember Encarta? It was a pet project of Microsoft’s Bill Gates. It was a 1990’s CD-based encyclopedia that Microsoft paid big bucks to develop. Microsoft eventually threw in the towel and admitted defeat. While Microsoft never publicly stated it, it was presumed that their defeat was at the hands of Wikipedia–an online encyclopedia with content that is generated for free by people like you and me out of a desire to share knowledge. Those who contribute to Wikipedia are those who are motivated, again, intrinsically and not with the traditional carrot.

This book is most applicable to those who are managing people and teams. However, I think it is also tremendously useful to teachers and parents as they consider how to build motivation in children. I also find it particularly useful to consider as I develop trainings that are meant to change behaviors over the long term.

With this new knowledge, that we can and should build intrinsic motivation of our teams, I pose the question: How do you help to promote building purpose, mastery, and autonomy in your teams?

You can read the book, which I highly recommend. But, if you only have 18 minutes and 36 seconds, here is his TED Talk that describes some of the highlights of his theories.

Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?

Check out Nancy Pelosi. Even a glance will show you that she is the only woman at the table (and one of 2, it seems, in the room).

The New York Times wrote an article entitled Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?

The author shares findings from an organizational behavior professor from the UK. She asked executives to draw a picture of a leader. Invariably, they drew pictures of men.

The researchers took the research further to investigate how “holding unconscious assumptions about gender affect[s] people’s abilities to recognize emerging leadership”.

“What they found, in a study posted by the Academy of Management Journal, seems to confirm what many women have long suspected: getting noticed as a leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men.”

This drew my attention because I have led a similar activity in a leadership training. Except, I do not ask participants to draw A leader, I ask them to draw a picture of a leader who has inspired and motivated them. While I cannot say with perfect accuracy how often women or men were drawn, I can 100% tell you that the participants have drawn women far more often than men. I have done this training now with hundreds of participants from six countries. The results never vary. Men and women alike draw women more often than not.

Maybe this exercise will be more balanced as women and men see more examples of women in leadership roles. We are still, in 2020, seeing a lot of “firsts” for women in leadership roles and women being rewarded and recognized for their contributions.

For goodness sake, we saw the first all-women space walk in 2019!

We also saw the second woman ever to win the Nobel Prize in economics! In 2019.

If I were to dive deeper, I’d posit that, true, sure, maybe it is harder to be recognized as a leader as a woman. But once you ARE a leader, you are more likely to be seen as a GREAT one. An inspiring, motivating leader.

What do you think? Once women are leaders, are they more likely to inspire greatness?

Book Report: With Charity for All: The Terrible Truth of Charitable Failure

Ken Stern, a former CEO of NPR, chronicles ways in which non-profits are financial nightmares…from overpaying CEOs, to failing to deliver on programatic promises, and finagling suspect non-profit tax breaks.

He posits that the non-profit machine keeps churning because donors do not do their homework. We donate to a charity when a friend is fundraising on Facebook. We buy the wrapping paper because out nephews are hawking it and don’t give a thought to the beneficiary. And, oh yes, I will gladly buy those Girl Scout cookies (I will gladly support girls empowerment with inclusion of LGBT kids!)!

He also writes about non-profits that have detriment effects–like D.A.R.E. Did you know that kids who went through a D.A.R.E. program are MORE likely to try drugs? There are even more organizations who can’t prove the effect of their work; maybe they have a positive effect, maybe not. In an ideal world, every non-profit will have a skilled monitoring and evaluation team working to ensure that programs are on track. Sometimes, for small organizations, that isn’t quite feasible. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I worked at a very small organization with just three of us working full time. We kept track of some key data and could certainly show an effect of some of our work. Could our M&E systems have been more robust? Sure–but that would have required another person on staff!

He makes the point that non-profits are often judged on their ratio of programmatic spending to overhead. Big overhead = bad. Oh, how I wish that donors would see a big picture. Non profit employees often earn less than for-profit counterparts and are still expected to have the same level of investment in terms of their education and professional development. The lowly non-profit workers are often strapped with debt, living with roommates until 35, and eating Ramen for far longer than anyone should. Interested in learning more about this aspect of the book and indulging in my tangent? Watch this great TED Talk by Dan Pallotta.

So, what are we to do?

Stern suggests greater government oversight, a requirement for non-profits to reapply for their government non-profit status, and for non-profits to invest more time and energy into measuring the results of their work. But, for donors, some of the onus is on us to dig deeper into organizations we wish to support–he urges us to look beyond HOW the money we donate is spent to the RESULTS of that spending. Certainly good advice! If you need some help deciding or don’t wish to do the research yourself, GiveWell.org is a great resource for reviewing charities you are considering.

I am also asked frequently what organizations I donate to– sometimes knowing someone in the industry is helpful. I have an eye on the budgets of the some of the places where I work and being in the field helps to know which organizations have an ethos that aligns with my own (like Partners in Health) and which ones do not (like World Vision). If my ethos and values align with yours, I’d be happy to chat!