Posted by: Tim | June 9, 2011

Book Review – Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Drive, by Daniel Pink, is a book about personal motivation.

Pink takes aim at a belief that is often assumed to be true, that people are motivated primarily by external rewards. Most workplaces are built around this belief, and employees receive rewards (and punishments) for their accomplishments at work. The assumption is that these rewards will motivate employees in their work. Describing the results of psychological experiments for the past few decades, Pink makes a strong case that external rewards (such as a financial bonus) are not the best way to motivate people and can even be detrimental to future motivation.

He makes a few qualifications to this claim. First, it applies to non-routine workers (ie knowledge workers not assembly line workers, who can be motivated by reward to get more done faster). Second, it assumes that an employee is receiving a basic base reward that is appropriate for the market, since a person who is not fairly and/or adequately compensated is not likely to be well motivated.

According to Pink, for knowledge workers, external rewards beyond a fair base pay do not motivate, and actually demotivate as the rewards come to be expected and turn off other, more powerful internal motivators.

Pink identifies three major internal motivators: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Autonomy refers to the ability to choose one’s own Tasks, manage one’s own Time, select one’s own Team, and choose one’s own Technique (how you get your work done). The higher the autonomy, the more motivated a person is likely to be.

Mastery refers to doing work that is hard to master, and thus challenges and motivates a person to try to achieve it. Pink describes a person being in ‘flow’, when they are doing a task that they love to do and time goes by quickly when they are doing it. They are internally motivated by the challenge of mastering the task. A significant reason why external rewards are ineffective is because it shuts down the mastery motivator. When a person is trying to master something, the work becomes almost like play because of the challenge, but when an external reward is introduced, it makes the task feel less like play and more like work.

Purpose refers to the reason why a person does their work. A person who works for a higher cause is motivated to work because they are driven to further that cause.

That’s basically it. Pink even wrote the Twitter version of the book at the back (less than 140 characters): “Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” (p203)

Drive is simple, but powerful.

I have been thinking about the implications of Drive for Christian ministry. That internal motivations are more powerful than external motivations seems pretty obvious to me. Few people go into ministry for the money, except for maybe the odd crook. But there are internal rewards in ministry that far outweigh external rewards.

Let’s apply Pink’s three internal motivators,  purpose, mastery and autonomy, to Christian ministry.

Purpose: A pastor is motivated by a higher cause, the cause of Jesus Christ in His church. This is normally why a person becomes a pastor, to serve the Lord and to serve people. For example, check out name and the subtitle of my blog – “Not in Vain – knowing that in the Lord, your labour is not in vain.” (from 1 Cor 15:58) It’s all about being motivated by a higher cause.

Mastery: You have never arrived in ministry and there is always a new challenge – preaching a better sermon, doing a better job of managing conflict, training people better, having better small groups and leaders, etc… There is always something to try to master that you never will fully master!

Autonomy: The level of a pastor’s autonomy in task, time, team, and technique varies from church to church, depending on both the governance structure and the personalities of individuals, boards, and committees. Some are wired towards controlling the pastor while others are geared towards granting autonomy to the pastor. Some are somewhere in between. An important implication of Drive is that pastors and ministry workers should be granted significant autonomy, to maximize their motivation and thus increase their productivity. To some it may seem counter-intuitive that less control will result in more productivity, and they are also worried about what disaster the pastor might unleash without stronger controls. But responding to these types of concerns is at the core of Drive. Old and current rewards models assumed that people don’t want to work and thus need to be controlled (carrot and stick) in order to be motivated. These models assumed that people did not care that much about their work and thus needed significant controls to keep them from messing things up. But Drive assumes that people do want work hard and do a good job, and thus seeks to maximize their productivity by granting freedom to get the job done in the best way they see fit. I’ve seen this play out over and over again in ministry. Some of the best things happen when I get out of the way and unleash people to creatively accomplish a ministry project.  It is amazing what people will come up with if you give them freedom to operate. There is the occasional disaster (someone comes up with a creative but unsuccessful idea, someone overspends, etc…), but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Conversely, a lot less happens when I try to control a ministry worker or team. Fewer disasters (maybe!), but fewer success stories (for sure!).

I recommend Drive to pastors, boards and ministry leaders, as well as to the business audience for whom I assume it was primarily written. A lot of it is intuitive to ministry people, as it describes the reality in which they work and live.

Click here to buy Drive (No, I don’t get a cut for linking you to Amazon. Knowing I’ve helped you buy a worthwhile book is reward enough for me!)

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