Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Book Summary

Posted on January 4th, 2012

Book: Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us - Notes

Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us

Most people believe that the best way to motivate is to use rewards like money, but according to Daniel Pink’s provocative and persuasive book Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, most people are make a mistake thinking that external rewards are the best way to motivate. He suggests that the secret to high performance and satisfaction at work, at school, and at home consists of three pillars: the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to become better at things that matter to us, and to do something meaningful for ourselves and the world.

What is motivation anyway?

The word motivation comes from the Latin verb movere, which means to move 1. Motivation makes us move from point A to point B. It helps us achieve goals, and do what we have to do so that we can do what we want to do.

One of the most common ways to motivate someone to do something is to use the principle of carrots & sticks, which is based on rewards and punishment. Organizations all over the world use this principles to motivate their employees and increase work engagement. Daniel Pink suggests that when it comes to motivation, there is a gap between what science knows and what business does 2.The current business operating system for the majority of business out there is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators, which often doesn’t work and sometimes does harm.

A brief history of the evolution of motivation

  • Motivation 1.0 - hunger, thirst, shelter, and reproduction. Think of people living in caves.

  • Motivation 2.0 - rewards and punishment to manipulate the behavior. If you do this, then you will get that. Carrots and sticks approach that influences peoples’ behavior using external rewards.

  • Motivation 3.0 - the three elements of true motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself rather than by external pressures.

What’s wrong with extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is based on the idea that if we want to increase a behavior we needs to reward it and if we want to decrease a behavior, we must use punishment. However, when people are motivated only by external rewards, they often shift their attention from the experience leading to the goal to the reward that follows the goal. Pure focus on goals may cause systematic problems for organizations such as focus only on short-term gains and lose of sight of the potential devastating long-term effects on the organization. The symptoms of goals only focus include:

  • Narrowed focus.
  • Unethical behavior.
  • Increased risk taking.
  • Decreased cooperation.
  • Decreased intrinsic motivation.

This does not mean that everyone should stop using external rewards. Rather, it is important to understand that for routine tasks, which aren’t very interesting and don’t require creative thinking, rewards can provide a small motivational booster shot without harmful side effects.

The new science of motivation

Pink suggests that organizations should implement a new way of motivating people, which is based on the three pillars:

  • 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.


Autonomy means that people want to have control over their work. Autonomous behavior means that people act with a full sense of volition and choice. It promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enchanted persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being. Control leads to compliance. Autonomy leads to engagement. Autonomy is different from independence because autonomy gives people the opportunity to act with choice. This means that people can be both autonomous and happily independent with others.

One of the ways to establish autonomy in the workforce is to create a results oriented working environment where people don’t have schedules, they show up when they want, and they don’t have to be in the office at a certain time. The only requirement is that they have to get their work done and show their results. In other words, autonomy emerges when people have a choice over their tasks, time, technique, and team. Autonomy stimulates intrinsic motivation, and people with high intrinsic motivation are usually better coworkers.


Mastery means that people want to get better at what they do as long as it matters to them. Mastery requires engagement and begins with flow - optimal experiences when the challenges you face are exquisitely matched to your abilities. Pink suggests that smart workplaces supplement day-to-day activities with Goldilocks tasks - not too hard and not too easy. The three rules of mastery:

  • Mastery is a mindset. It requires the capacity to see your abilities not as finite, but as infinitely improvable.

  • Mastery is a pain. It demands effort, grit, and deliberate practice.

  • Mastery is an asymptote. It’s impossible to fully realize, which means that there is always room for improvement.


Purpose means that people want to be part of something that is bigger than they are. Viktor Frankl suggested that the will to meaning is the basic motivation of human life. Human beings are not in pursuit of happiness, instead they search for reasons to be happy 3[]. Daniel Pink argues that in general, people are purpose maximizers and that there are three pillars of purpose:

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

Unfortunately, the majority of companies focus on profit maximization rather than purpose maximization. Purpose is a nice thing to have as long as it does not get in the way of making profit for the company. However, there are some companies that focus on maximizing their profit by maximizing their purpose. Theses companies usually express purpose motive in goals that use profit to reach purpose; in words that emphasize more than self-interest; in policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms.

Apple is an example of a company that is focused on maximizing their profit by maximizing their purpose. Apple’s primary goal is to create great products that everyone can enjoy. By maximizing their purpose, Apple is maximizing its profit because people love their products.


As long as people are being paid enough to get the question of money off the table, companies need to look beyond reward based motivation. People want to be self-directed, they like to master things, and that they want to be a part of something that is important. If we start treating people like people rather than animals that can be manipulated by rewards and punishment, we can improve work engagement, increase happiness, and even make the world a better place.

Animated video of Daniel Pink’s presentation about Motivation 3.0.

Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us - Visual Book Summary

Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us Book Notes

Goals in organization

The Seven Deadly Flaws of Extrinsic Motivation

How To Increase Completion of Boring Tasks

How To Properly Use Extrinsic Rewards


When to use rewards

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Ingredients of Genuine Motivation




  1. Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons 

  2. Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books. 

  3. Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston: Beacon Press. 

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