Skip to Content

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

Drive (2009) points out that many organizations still follow a “carrot and stick” approach, using external incentives to motivate people. It explains why this is a bad idea and introduces a more effective solution: sparking engagement by catering to the psychology of intrinsic motivation.

Introduction: Learn about the benefits of intrinsic motivation.

You might have heard the term intrinsic motivation before. It’s the idea that people engage in an activity not because someone forces them to, but because they actually want to. Maybe they simply enjoy what they do or find it personally rewarding. In any case, the motivation is internal. It’s personal. There isn’t an outside source influencing anything through material rewards or punishments.

But while intrinsic motivation sounds – and is – wonderful, in many organizations it’s simply not the reality. There’s not enough passion or inherent satisfaction driving workers in their jobs. Extrinsic motivation, or reward-driven behavior, still reigns supreme.

But why is this? Do we just not enjoy what we’re doing, or is there something more to it? This is the question we’ll be aiming to answer in this summary to Daniel Pink’s Drive.

[Book Summary] Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

The discovery of intrinsic motivation

In 1949, a professor of psychology called Harry Harlow gave eight Rhesus monkeys a mechanical puzzle. Their assignment was to pull out a pin and lift a hinge – not exactly what you’d call an easy task for a monkey. Harlow expected that the monkeys wouldn’t concern themselves with it. After all, the experiment was set up so that the primates wouldn’t receive any reward – neither food nor praise – for solving the puzzle. Surprisingly, the monkeys still gave it a go. They recognized how the puzzle worked, and they solved it. What’s more, they seemed to actually be enjoying themselves!

To the researcher, this came as a big surprise. Until then, there had only been two possible explanations for such behavior: nature and external incentives. But nature clearly wasn’t at work here – solving a puzzle isn’t part of the eat-drink-procreate equation. There weren’t any external incentives present either. So, somehow, there seemed to be a mysterious third kind of drive.

Enter intrinsic motivation – or, as Pink calls it, Motivation 3.0. It sounds a bit like an app you can download, right? It’s actually called this because Pink sees the three different types of drives as a historical sequence that describes how the way we work has evolved. Let’s take a look at each.

  1. Around 50,000 years ago, mankind was preoccupied with its own survival and driven by Motivation 1.0: the search for food and drink, a safe place to rest at night, and the desire to reproduce and pass on genes. Up until a few centuries ago, these basic needs were the main driving force of humanity.
  2. Then, during the age of industrialization, production cycles became more complex, and people started to rely increasingly on a new impetus for productivity: extrinsic motivation, or Motivation 2.0. This is based on the incentives of reward and punishment – also known as “the carrot and the stick.” The thinking here is that rewards reinforce desirable behavior, while punishment prevents undesirable behavior. During industrialization, this was actually effective – at least to some degree. With the prospect of higher wages in mind, laborers hauled more coal; and when threatened with dismissal for stealing materials, they were less likely to take anything from the workplace.
  3. The problem with version 2.0 is that workers who aren’t driven by the consequences of the carrot or the stick fundamentally have no enthusiasm for their work and will try to shirk any responsibility. Therefore, those in management positions must direct and supervise them. That’s bad news for today’s knowledge economy, which needs autonomous workers. With the carrot and the stick, you can force a worker to show up every day, stay for eight hours, and perform simple tasks. But you can’t force anyone to be curious, creative, and innovative. Instead, you can cater to someone’s intrinsic motivation – you can make them want to be curious, creative, and innovative. And that’s why Pink believes we have to upgrade our economy to Motivation 3.0.

The power of intrinsic motivation

Motivation 3.0 is a tremendously powerful tool. If given the opportunity, intrinsically motivated people make their own decisions on when they work best, what exactly they should work on, and how they should do it. They take responsibility. And they don’t need to be directed or rewarded all the time because they actually enjoy doing the work.

You probably know what this feels like from your own work, a hobby, or playing sports: sometimes you’re so immersed in an activity that you forget the world around you.

While most people are already fully aware of the power of intrinsic motivation, it’s somehow still a commonly neglected factor in the workplace. And that’s because there’s a widespread belief in business that if you want to get a difficult job done, there’s only one way to do it: spend a lot of money on incentives.

As a leader, you might think that strategy makes sense. Why not, if you’ve got the money? Well, before you start tossing your hard-earned bucks toward your next project, let’s go through a little scenario.

Imagine it’s 1995 and someone says, Here are two types of encyclopedias.

  • The first is called Encarta. It’s written by professionals and paid for by one of the most successful tech companies in the world: Microsoft.
  • The second encyclopedia is called Wikipedia. It doesn’t even exist yet, but enthusiasts will soon create it in a collaborative effort on the internet. None of them will be paid a single dollar.

Based on this sales pitch, which of these encyclopedias do you think will be more successful? Today, it might seem obvious that Wikipedia would win the race – Encarta was discontinued in 2009. In 1995, though, people would have called you insane if you’d opted for Wikipedia. But, as we know, it became an enormous success: Wikipedia grew into a website containing millions of articles in hundreds of languages. Tens of thousands of people write and edit for Wikipedia out of pure enjoyment. They invest valuable working time and receive not even the lowest material reward in return.

There are many more examples that demonstrate this idea. Think of Mozilla Firefox, the free web browser first released in 2002, which became immensely popular for years. It was created almost exclusively by volunteers, but it soon became a full-fledged browser with hundreds of millions of users. Or, think of something a bit more mundane: cooking. We take it for granted that a lot of people are willing to share their favorite recipes online without being paid – but it’s all due to the power of intrinsic motivation.

Unfortunately, these instances are not the status quo. In most cases, extrinsic motivation still seems to reign supreme, while intrinsic motivation remains an exception to the rule. In the following chapters, we’ll look at how to change that.

Intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation.

Do you know where to find true masters of intrinsic motivation? On the playground. This is what children do best – demonstrate great dedication toward small goals. They romp about with curiosity and sample everything possible, all in an attempt to understand the world. They employ their hands, mouth, eyes, and ears with pleasure. Children are intrinsically motivated to a high degree. They love the process of learning . . . as long as they don’t call it “learning.”

But over the years, they change; their urge to search for challenges and novelties lessens. So what happens to their motivation? Well, let’s turn to science. In a nursery experiment, children were asked to produce a drawing. Some children were told they’d receive a certificate for completing their drawing, while others weren’t told anything. When both groups were asked to draw again – this time with neither group being promised a reward – the children who had previously received a certificate no longer wanted to draw. But those who hadn’t received any special recognition did. The promised recognition had destroyed the first group’s intrinsic motivation; they’d learned to draw only for a reward.

Following this pattern, if-then rewards gradually eradicate intrinsic motivation for many activities: if you give me this, then I’ll do that. As children, we’re driven by our inner desires to learn, to discover, and to help others. But as we grow up, we’re programmed by society to need extrinsic motivations: if we take out the trash, study hard, and work tirelessly, then we’ll be rewarded with friendly praise, high grades, and good paychecks. Slowly, we lose more and more of our intrinsic motivation. On the path to adulthood, our natural dedication decreases with age.

The world seems to be obsessed with extrinsic motivation, which can cause serious harm. Here are two examples that illustrate this.

  • In most garages and auto shops, mechanics are promised a bonus if they carry out a certain number of repairs within a certain time frame. You might expect this external incentive to motivate them to provide results that satisfy their customers. Instead, the whole strategy often backfires. The mechanics’ main goal is to achieve a target number of repairs and secure their reward, and so they’re inclined to carry out unnecessary repairs – something which annoys their customers and damages the company as a whole. The customers lose their faith in the garage despite the workers’ delivering on target.
  • In our second example, participants of an experiment were asked to find a way to fasten a candle to a wall. Some participants were promised money for solving the problem quickly; others were not. But instead of inspiring the participants to think creatively, the prospect of the reward clouded their thinking and blunted their resourcefulness. The incentive hindered them, impeding the wider vision necessary to solve the task and resulting in notably longer completion times compared to participants who were not promised a reward.

It’s time for a revolution.

Let’s recap. Extrinsic motivation can be effective in the case of routine tasks, like packing bags in a supermarket. But if the work is more demanding or requires a greater degree of creativity, carrot-and-stick motivation can lead to immoral behavior and a decline in performance.

How can you make use of this insight? You have to change the way your organization works on a deeper level. To do that, you can use these three key components: mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

  • Mastery means that, instead of just obeying an organization’s rules and regulations, people feel an urge to really get better at what they’re doing. They’re engaged, not just compliant.
  • Autonomy means being active. People don’t need to be managed; instead, they follow their own direction.
  • Purpose means doing meaningful, socially relevant work – work that is more than just a sequence of random tasks.

We’ll explore each of these components in the following chapters. By the end, you’ll hopefully have an idea of how to put Motivation 3.0 to work.

Mastery: Let people go with their own flow.

Key component one: mastery. If you want to promote intrinsic motivation, make sure people have the freedom to strive for perfection.

Fifty percent of employees in the US report feeling uncommitted to their job. They fulfill their duties but lack passion. This is because many people aren’t engaged enough in their work and have too few opportunities for personal development. Their drive for perfection is suffocated – and so is their commitment.

But let’s jump to the other end of the spectrum. Let’s look at artists – or, more specifically, painters. They happily work on their paintings for hours on end, unleashing their creativity. Creative people with a drive for perfection often work in a flow state, which means they pursue a task with the highest degree of concentration and passion, forget the world around them, and lose themselves entirely in their work.

You can find these flow states not only in artists but in all kinds of professions. Basketball players love the game and welcome the competition. Computer scientists want to create increasingly intelligent programs and develop new, advanced code. Photographers want to take better pictures and find something new with each click of the shutter.

What they all have in common is Motivation 3.0 – an inner urge to achieve perfection. This allows them to improve in an area that’s important to them, and to bring passion and commitment to the pursuit of their goal. When they’re in the flow state, they work on tasks that are neither too simple or too difficult – they’re just right.

Sure, the flow state can’t last for very extended periods, but it does occur episodically. It goes hand-in-hand with the drive for perfection, which continually develops and leads to new states of flow. Even just small hints of success in an ongoing piece of work – and the belief in continual improvement – can be enough to motivate you under these circumstances.

Some people think that our skills are written in stone at birth – that no amount of exertion will allow them to someday be better at running or drawing. These people are difficult to motivate. But the person who believes they’re able to develop further will work hard to run faster or paint their next masterpiece.

This also applies to company employees, as long as they’re entrusted with appropriate tasks. If a manager gives her employees a task that encourages them to improve, this can generate a flow experience – and that employee will come to work every day with an increased level of dedication and passion.

Autonomy: My task, my time, my team!

Key component two: autonomy. If you want to promote intrinsic motivation, allow people to make relevant decisions on their own.

In the previous chapters, we mentioned that there are many companies that still rely on the carrot and the stick. However, some companies are different. It’s worth taking a leaf out of their book. In these companies, leadership rests on the self-determination of the workers. Instead of monitoring their employees and keeping them on a tight leash, they’ve either relaxed control or completely let go of the reins.

Here’s an example. A typical call center has an annual staff turnover of 35 percent. Making telephone calls for hours on end in a crowded room is stressful. It offers little room for self-determination and so provides no intrinsic motivation. Zappos, however, does things differently: its employees are allowed to work from home with no managerial pressure and can lead conversations in their own style. As a result, they’re highly motivated – and their customer service is notably better than average. Plus, they usually remain with the company longer than normal.

Google also lets individuals make their own decisions with regard to their work. Employees can spend 20 percent of their time developing their own innovative ideas. The success of this motivation strategy speaks for itself: in these phases, the workers of Google have developed Google News and Google Mail, which have been incredible additions to the company’s products.

Here’s a third example. The company Meddius uses self-determination as a source of motivation for its workers. Everyone’s goal is simply to complete their tasks within a certain time frame – management has done away with set office hours. Employees are much more motivated because they can make it to their children’s sports games or recitals.

The team you work with also has a significant impact on your motivation. At Whole Foods, both workers and personnel managers decide on new employees. And at W. L. Gore & Associates, the makers of the Gore-Tex fabric, people who want to lead a team have to find colleagues willing to work for them first.

Whether you’re a scientist, a cashier, or a mechanic, you’ll be more dedicated to your work when you’re allowed self-determination. Some people wish to have more of a say in their working hours, and others in the way in which their team is composed. If an employee is allowed these freedoms, they develop a greater potential for achievement, are more satisfied in their job, and are less inclined to burn out.

Purpose: Work should be meaningful.

Key component three: purpose. If you want to promote intrinsic motivation, stand up for meaningful work.

What moves people during the course of their lives? To answer this question, psychologists asked graduates of the University of Rochester about their main aim in life. While some named extrinsic profit targets and wanted to become rich and famous, others specified more meaningful intrinsic goals like developing personally and helping others – working for international aid organizations, for example.

A few years later, the researchers interviewed the same participants to find out how things had turned out for them. Many of the students with profit goals had achieved positions as managers in large firms. But they weren’t satisfied; on the contrary, they suffered from depression and anxiety more frequently than the students who had stated meaningful goals. The latter reported having achieved greater happiness in life and rarely suffering from psychological ailments.

Striving to change something in yourself, and in society, is a healthy and satisfying impetus. To have a larger goal in mind is more motivating and activating than money could ever be. Instead of reaching for the highest possible profit, people who pursue meaning in their lives want to give something back to society – which in turn also gives them personal strength.

This insight can be transferred from people’s personal lives to their jobs. For example, there’s a study that shows that the welfare of workers improves in companies where a proportion of the budget can be donated to charitable causes. And doctors are noticeably less drained if they’re able to use one day per week to talk with their patients and do outreach services.

So, if you haven’t done it already, it may be time to search for things that create meaning and purpose in your organization. You might just start feeling the effects sooner than you think.


What is the best way to motive yourself and others to do cognitively demanding work?

External rewards like cash bonuses are great for straight-forward tasks: getting kids to do their chores, convincing yourself to do repetitive data entry work, or motivating an employee to do assembly line work.

However, these ‘if you do this, I’ll reward you with that’ types of external incentives are horrible for motiving yourself and others to learn a difficult subject or come up with creative solutions to complex problems.

According to scientific research, if you use external incentives like money, grades, or social status, you will do significant harm to one’s long-term motivation to do cognitively demanding work.

The best way to motive yourself and others is to spark three intrinsic drivers:


When Atlassian, an Australian software company, allowed their programmers to have a complete day of freedom (they were paid to work on whatever code they wanted with whomever they wanted), they came up with several new product ideas and dozens of creative solutions to existing problems.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes told author Daniel Pink, “If you don’t pay enough, you can lose people. But beyond that, money is not a motivator.” What motivates people beyond equal pay is work autonomy.

By giving yourself and others a degree of flexibility within a rigid framework with a choice of tasks, free time to work on side projects, choice of technique, and the opportunity to pick team members, you will spark the intrinsic drive of autonomy. Author Daniel Pink calls these the four T’s of autonomy: freedom to pick the task, the time, the technique, and the team.

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” – Daniel Pink


When Swedish shipping company, Green Cargo, wanted to overhaul their performance review process, they implemented a key finding by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: when workers are given tasks slightly above their current skill level and stay in a state between boredom and anxiety, they are more engaged, more motivated to work, and more creative.

Green Cargo implemented Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s findings by changing the way they conducted performance reviews. During each performance review, managers now needed to determine if their employees were overwhelmed or underwhelmed with their current work assignments. Then the managers needed to work with each employee to craft Goldilocks work assignments: work assignments that weren’t too hard, not too easy, but just right above their current skill level.

What effect did Green Cargo’s new performance review system have? Employees were more engaged and reported feelings of mastery over their work. After two years of these new performance reviews, Green Cargo became profitable for the first time in 125 years.

“One source of frustration in the workplace is the frequent mismatch between what people must do and what people can do. When what they must do exceeds their capabilities, the result is anxiety. When what they must do falls short of their capabilities, the result is boredom. But when the match is just right, the results can be glorious.” – Daniel Pink


“You have to repeat your mission and your purpose…over and over and over. And sometimes you’re like, doesn’t everyone already know this? It doesn’t matter. Starting out the meetings with This is Facebook’s mission, This is Instagram’s mission, and This is why Whatsapp exists (is critical).” – Sheryl Sandberg

When Sheryl Sandburg starts her meetings by stating the mission, she’s sparking the third intrinsic driver: a sense of purpose.

Purpose is the reason organizations like ‘Doctors Without Borders’ can get highly skilled doctors to willingly travel to poor villages around the world, live in harsh conditions, and get paid very little money to do so. These doctors are motivated to work because they are fueled by a sense of purpose they get from helping others.

Ask: How will learning this topic allow you to help the people you care about? How will solving this problem serve the greater good?

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” – Daniel Pink


Creative workers are at their most productive when they’re intrinsically motivated, and high productivity benefits the whole company. So, how can you use this summary to transform your own company? Here are three ideas.

First, ask yourself whether you give constructive feedback to your coworkers on a regular basis. This might seem like a minor measure, but it’s a powerful one: spontaneous praise can make someone’s day. Praise channels the focus of employees on the joy of their work – which increases their natural intrinsic motivation.

Second, highlight how important each individual’s contribution is for the performance of the whole company. Each person should truly feel that their individual actions are meaningful.

Finally, you might remember the “drive for perfection” we brought up earlier. To make sure this drive is satisfied, each employee should be given a task that challenges their abilities and stimulates them, without being too complicated. Because that’s how you create a real flow state – a state where fun and productivity become one.

About the author

Daniel H. Pink is the author of four provocative books — including the long-running New York Times bestseller, A Whole New Mind, and the #1 New York Time bestseller, Drive. His books have been translated into 33 languages.


Psychology, Motivation, Inspiration, Management, Leadership, Business Culture, Occupational and Organizational Popular Psychology, Sales and Selling

Video and Podcast