Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review - DRiVE - Motivation That's Beyond Carrots & Sticks

I've never before read a book that combined corporate business management, psychology, and rhesus monkeys solving puzzles in the first chapter, but that's what Daniel Pink does in Drive.

Scientists have held the theory that there are two main drives for human behavior.  There's a primal-biological one - everybody wants/needs to eat, sleep, and mate.  (Sometimes more of one than the others.)

Technically these are not sticks, these are
whips - but they're still for beating somebody.
(Or wearing as a fashion accessory.)

The second main drive is to complete a task either to receive a reward (a carrot,) or to avoid a punishment (a stick.)

So the conundrum was, why, in experiments, absent either the primary or secondary drive, did the monkeys still choose to solve puzzles - even though they were neither being rewarded or punished with any of the above?

Why do human beings want to play World of Warcraft?  There seems to be a third drive - one of intrinsic motivation.  One where the joy and challenge of the task is its own reward, whether that's solving a puzzle, playing a video game, or climbing Mt. Everest.

If we turn something fun into a task or chore, into something we should do (something OCPD tends to do a lot, alas) we become less motivated to do it.  If we turn work into play, we become more motivated to do it - and can often recruit help.  In Tom Sawyer, remember how skillfully Tom made out whitewashing Aunt Polly's fence to be a fun privilege, so that his friend Ben and others begged for the opportunity to whitewash the fence?

Getting rewards (over and above a good salary) for something we enjoy and do well can actually sap the fun, creativity and productivity right out of it.  It sounds counterintuitive, but there are plenty of studies that bear this out.  (Not to mention seeing how well excessive cash bonuses seem to work on places like, oh, Wall Street in 2008-2009.)

We've all heard of Type A and Type B personalities - now meet Type X (for eXtrinsic rewards, which sounds like a smutty novel,) and Type I (for Intrinsic desires.)  Type X is somebody fueled by carrot-and-stick type motivation.  This can work, especially in the beginning, but it usually fades as time goes on.  Think about our New Year's gym memberships - an ugly thought, I know.

Photo by OpenFire

If we want to take off twenty pounds, we might grit our teeth and accomplish that goal, but unless we find something at the gym we truly love to do, something we consider fun...  it's amazing how many things will begin to interfere with our gym schedule.  And then those twenty pounds will return.  With their evil friends. 

Goldilocks is in the House - the key to achieving great results in a work (or any) environment is finding tasks that are not too easy, not too difficult.  Too easy and we're checking our FaceBook page 20 times a day out of boredom; too hard and we give up before we start.  When we're challenged, when we are working on a project that makes us stretch, to push ourselves beyond what we've done in the past, to master a new skill or an old one, there's such a glorious feeling of flow.

Flow is where wonderful things happen, where ideas are born, where creativity does a happy dance.  It's that exhilarating mental state where we feel in control, full of purpose, and in the zone.  Three necessary ingredients for Goldilocks tasks:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Autonomy gives people as much freedom as possible - this might be flex hours, choice of projects to work on, freedom to vary from the script and solve problems in one's own way, the right to select one's own team.  It's the opposite of being micromanaged - and it gets the best results.

Mastery is an Asymptote (gesundheit!)  Actually, an asymptote is a straight line that a curve approaches but never quite reaches. 
Image by
(Cool, huh?  I know I feel smarter already.)  This algebraic concept is why people strive to be really, really good at something - whether it's Tiger Woods playing golf or Paul Cezanne painting a picture, though they never achieve perfection.  (Hear that, OCPDrs?)  Those we think of as "masters" of a sport or an art accept that they never will become perfect, but continue to work hard to get as close as they can.  (Well, not Cezanne anymore, he's dead.)  This challenge of trying to improve your mastery of an art, sport, or job performance, is a very big part of intrinsic motivation.

Purpose is the sense of doing something significant, working towards a larger goal.  Something beyond yourself.  Purpose is why we donate more blood during natural disasters, or help our neighbors jump start their car.  We want to feel like we are making the world a better place, contributing as part of a team at a great workplace, or helping even one child.

If we have enough autonomy, mastery, and purpose, we will find joy, flow and creativity in what we do, whether that thing is a 5k race to fight breast cancer, satisfying a difficult customer on a help line, or... writing a blog.

So, what drives you?  What gives you a sense of flow and purpose and mastery?  Leave me a comment and let me know.