Review of Daniel Pink’s Drive

23 Sep 2010 – Birkenhead

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsDrive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this book is really important. I was led to it from Seth Godin’s site, via a presentation he recommended up on Visualizing drive an illustrated presentation by Dan Pink.

In essence we are contradictory beasts, you can get people to do simple things with simple rewards, e.g money and a bit of carrot and stick. More complex tasks need a sense of flow and eventual mastery. If you try to use carrot and stick when people need to think they do less well – spectacularly so. There is a whole science of this that has been discovered over the last 20 years or so. But if you look at really successful, innovative companies and organisations I think you’ll find they would say that most of this is blindingly obvious.

The old style motivational tools Pink calls Motivation 2.0 (1.0 is getting warm, comfortable and fed – basic drives). This works when most people do repetitive, boring jobs that don’t require a lot of thinking once learned. Motivation 3.0 is what we need now – the harder you push someone who needs to think the harder they find it is to do their job. If they can get into the mental state of autonomy, flow and personal validation with a route to what he calls mastery (unachievable but the journey is emotionally stimulating and satisfying), they will perform really well and enjoy what they do.

As someone who cares passionately about doing software right and a staunch advocate of Agile methods I was re-reading The Art of Agile Development. The word that jumps out of the page is trust, plus there’s an imaginary team that a developer called Pat is introduced to. The team are all switched on, having fun, doing something worthwhile that will help the business. Motivation 3.0, Agile software development is based on an empirical discovery of Motivation 3.0. Pink’s book gives the theoretical underpinning as to why Agile, done properly, is so powerful. It also explains why some projects just fail, too much control, too little autonomy, and some succeed anyway – people were allowed to shine, so they did.

In fact, one of the failure modes is Big Design Up Front (BDUF) – what is this but sucking the autonomy and the contribution of the talents and skills of the people actually delivering the software, of devaluing what they can give? Anyone who has been handed one of these 400 page architecture plans full of drivel will know whereof I speak. Deferring decisions to the last possible moment means they will be made by people who have enough information to make the best decision possible allows them to blossom.

So, the obvious thing: treating people like responsible adults – giving them good, sharp, tools and a framework that helps them get better at what they do. There is a ton of empirical evidence that Pink quotes to show that this doesn’t just make you feel good, it’s the best way to proceed.

I think I might present the headmaster of my son’s school with a copy, but I doubt he’d read it. This makes me sad.

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Francis's bookshelf: read

Kent Beck's Guide to Better Smalltalk: A Sorted CollectionAgile Software Development, Principles, Patterns, and PracticesClean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software CraftsmanshipTest Driven Development: By ExampleAmerican GodsLanguage Design Patterns: Techniques for Implementing Domain-Specific Languages

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