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You gotta want it

According to a new book, that’s the key to motivation

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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink

What if I offered you 10 bucks to read this book review? You’d probably do it.

But then, in a week or two, when you picked up the Weekly and saw my next book review, you’d think, What’s the point of reading this one? It’s not like I’m getting paid for it. Then you’d flip ahead to the party photos.

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink advocates for the superiority of intrinsic motivation. If you like running, Pink says, you’ll go farther than the woman who’s running to lose weight for a cruise. If you want to speak Italian, you’ll pick the language up faster than the guy who’s taking classes to impress his Italian in-laws. External motivation and reward, says Pink, actually does more harm than good, a lot of the time:

“The science shows that ‘if-then’ rewards not only are ineffective in many situations, but can crush the high-level, creative, conceptual abilities that are central to current and future economic and social progress.”

Scientists first observed the crippling effect when rhesus monkeys started solving simple puzzles for the heck of it, as opposed to solving them for treats. With the treats out of the picture, the monkeys actually did more solving. Pink describes the scientists’ reaction like this: “It was akin to rolling a steel ball down an inclined plane to measure its velocity—only to watch the ball float into the air instead.”

The Details

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Three and a half stars
Daniel Pink. Riverhead, $27.

Pink is a strong writer. But sometimes he makes his case stronger than it needs to be. For example, Pink writes about a study in which experimenters added a monetary incentive to blood donations to see whether the participation rate would increase or decrease. Pink says that it decreased because “it tainted an altruistic act and ‘crowded out’ the intrinsic desire to do something good.” But then he’s got this footnote in which he admits, “The result for the 119 men in the experiment were somewhat different. The payment had no statistically significant effect, positive or negative, on the decision to give blood.”

First, that’s a more than “somewhat” different result; it’s a wholly different result. Second, why were men, but not the women, relegated to a footnote?

Pink doesn’t need to pull this sort of trickery to make his case; he had me convinced after Chapter Two. Drive is an important book for managers, teachers and parents. It’s easy to read, too …in part because the main text is only 146 pages, and the margins are wide.

But don’t read it because it’s easy or because I’m telling you to; read it because you want to.

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