Drive: Book Summary & Review

drive book cover

Drive (2009) explains, in simple terms and with plenty of examples, that rewards and punishments -motivation 2.0- is an old paradigm that doesn’t work nearly as well in today’s work environments.
Much better instead is to appeal to intrinsic motivation and “higher ideals” -motivation 3.0-.

Drive by Daniel Pink quote

Bullet Summary

  • Extrinsic motivation (rewards & punishment) works on mechanical, repetitive tasks (Tylor assembly chain)
  • Extrinsic motivation is actually counterproductive in complex tasks
  • Intrinsic motivation (already present within us) is far superior for complex tasks and creative work

Drive Summary

About the author: Daniel Pink is a journalist and a best-selling author.
He is not a psychologist himself, but he does good research and I can say I really liked all his books, which include “When” and “To Sell Is Human“.

Chapter 1: The Rise and Fall of Motivation 2.0

Daniel Pink first piques our curiosity by detailing a few well-known stories that shouldn’t, theoretically, make sense if we looked at them through the lenses of the typical old economic theories.

Encarta for example, drafted by a team of well-paid writers, lost out to Wikipedia that didn’t pay a cent to the curators.

He then sets out to explain why. In the early days of human history, we were driven by our survival needs: eating and, well… Surviving.
For all the survival drives we had, Pink refers to them as “Motivation 1.0”.

With the industrial revolution motivation 2.0 emerged, which leverages extrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is still widely used today but, Pink argues, it’s outdated for our modern world and it’s time we move to a Motivation 3.0, actually based on Intrinsic Motivation.

Let’s see the differences between Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation:

  • Extrinsic Motivation 

Extrinsic Motivators are sticks and carrots such as “if you do this, you get that consequence”.
The consequence can either be a positive reward or a punishment.

A reward could be a raise, a promotion, a bonus, etc. A punishment could be a reprimand, public shaming, firing, etc.

  • Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is motivation coming from within.

It’s the joy we get from producing something useful (Linux VS Windows), from spreading knowledge (Wikipedia VS Encarta), and from producing art (poetry for a loved one).

Once our basic financial needs are met, intrinsic motivation is far superior in motivating people.

Chapter 2: 7 Reasons Why Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work

Albeit most people still stick to carrots and sticks, psychology makes it abundantly clear that they don’t work really well.
Here is why:

1. Crowds-out intrinsic motivation

Daniel Pink affirms that extrinsic rewards tend to become the key reason for doing the task and thus they “crowd out” intrinsic motivation and any possible pleasure connected to the task itself.

Example: Giving preschool children a reward for drawing meant they drew less than the groups without any reward 2 weeks after the task ended. The group without a reward had kept their intrinsic motivation intact and thus kept drawing with gusto.

2. Diminishes performance (esp. long-term)

Studies show that paying people to achieve certain skills leads to lower results compared to not paying them.
And the  “boost” to performance tends to completely dissipate over time. 

3. Can crush creativity

Bonuses can focus action and attention towards a specific result, distracting us from the bigger picture, and thus reducing potential creativity.

For example, a panel judged artists who produced art for art’s sake as more creative compared to when working on commission.

4. Can crowd out good behavior
Daniel Pink quotes the famous Richard Titmuss experiment concluding that paying citizens to donate blood led to a reduction in donations.

That’s because monetary rewards made a socially responsible act of altruism a financially motivated one.

5. Can encourage cheating

By focusing on the end result, extrinsic motivators can encourage cheating.
The examples in Drive are of ENRON and NASA Apollo, but if you’ve lived through the 2008 financial meltdown, you are well aware of the flak of critics around outsized bonuses.

daniel pink carrots and sticks
Photo by Nathalie Magniez

6. Can become addictive

Study shows that a reward, while it can increase motivation in the short term, can lead to negative effects once it’s stopped.
That’s because the reward becomes normal, and once it’s taken away, it feels like a punishment.
Here’s a link to the study.

7. Can foster short-term thinking

Drive presents studies showing how the companies most hell-bent on guiding quarterly earnings deliver significantly lower long-term growth compared to their peers.

Chapter 3: Type I and Type X

Daniel Pink defines two types of people:

  • Type X (Extrinsic)

Type X personalities are driven by external factors such as fame, status, money, etc. They can often be highly successful but also troubled by an insatiable appetite for more “things”.
And we are all aware the joy of monetary success never fully satisfy us.

  • Type I’s (Intrinsic)

For Type I personalities motivation comes from within – to accomplish something meaningful-. Success is measured by the task itself and not by a reward.
Type Is have higher self-esteem, better relationships, and are in overall better physical and mental shape (as outlined in Social Intelligence). 

Type I’s will usually outperform a Type X in the long run.

 Intrinsic motivation pillars

Daniel Pink delves deep into the pillars that light the intrinsic motivation fire:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives;
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters;
  • Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Chapter 4: Autonomy

Here’s a way to establish autonomy in the workforce: ask for the results and leave the how-to them (in direct opposition to what Michael Gerber advises)

Chapter 5: Mastery

The premise of Mastery is that people yearn to get better at what they do (as long as they care about it).

Flow is key to reaching mastery, and you reach flow when the tasks are neither too easy nor too difficult (also check flow in “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Performance“, Emotional Intelligence and Bold ).

That sweet spot of not too easy and neither too difficult is also the point at which we will learn the most and the quickest (for more on peak performance also check The Talent Code and Peak ).

  • Mastery is a mindset. You see your abilities as infinitely improvable (check how to develop a growth mindset)
  • Mastery is a pain. It demands effort, grit, and deliberate practice.
  • Mastery is an asymptote. In a mountain without a peak, there is always room for improvement.

Chapter 6: Purpose

Purpose leverages the human desire of being part of something bigger (and it’s similar to the WHY in Sinek’s great book)
Daniel Pink also cites Viktor Frankl in suggesting that the will for meaning is the basic motivation of human life.  

We reach purpose while:

  • Doing something that matters;
  • Doing it well;
  • Doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.

Most companies focus on profit maximization rather than purpose maximization. 

Apple is an exception: creating great products is Apple’s way of maximizing profits by making great products.

drive book cover

How you can apply it

To motivate people from now on:

  • Try to do without money or de-link money from results (check Cialdini too)
  • Compliment, show appreciation for the behavior you wanna encourage
  • Make them feel like they’re contributing to something great
  • Give a goal, let them find the way


  • One-sided

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” makes no mention of any research that doesn’t fully back its central thesis (and yes, there are: here is one showing how men are not swayed by financial reward in donating blood).
While I’m a big supporter of Daniel Pink’s conclusions I would have preferred a more balanced view presenting both pros and cons.

  • Shallow representation of Type X

Type X, the people motivated by extrinsic rewards, sound a bit like a straw man argument for the “greedy, bad guy”.
I find it a bit simplistic. We can wish it weren’t so, but most human beings do share a drive to hoard and get as much as they can. And it’s not necessarily a terrible thing.

  • Shortcut to intrinsic

Daniel Pink suggests intrinsic motivation is the only way to go “as soon as people are paid enough to take the money question off the table”.
Well, talking about a big IF :).

And what’s “enough”?
Is it the same for everyone? And who is really able to do that?


Drive summarizes a ton of research to make a good case for moving past material rewards.

If you’re interested in influencing and psychology, or even if you’re a parent or a manager -or planning to be one- you will get a ton of value from Drive.

Get your copy here.

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