This series of posts is based on journalist and author Dan Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” available here. Here is Part 1.

Human societies are like computers; they have operating systems.

In a computer, beneath the surface of the hardware (i.e. the physical components) rests the software, which contains all the important information needed to run the computer; all the instructions, protocols and suppositions that enable the computer to run smoothly.

Similarly, human societies operate based on laws, customs and economic arrangements that stem from a set of instructions, protocols and suppositions that enable the society to run smoothly.

Most importantly, Pink says, at the core of our society’s operating system rests fundamental assumptions about human behavior (18).

What are these assumptions?

The evolution of motivation (Pink 18-20)

In the beginnings of humankind, man’s motivational structure was simple; he was led by his survival instinct and all the desires related to it (i.e. hunting/foraging for food, protection/security, desire to reproduce, etc.). This is what Pink calls ‘Motivation 1.0.’.

As humans developed more complex societies, this model of motivation proved to be inadequate. New societal structures created new ways of working and living; man began to realize that it wasn’t in his best interest to always follow his biological urges; sometimes they needed to be restrained. Slowly came the realization that man was more than his biology; humans were capable of more complex psychological phenomena than before.

A new drive, in addition to the first, came to be: the drive to seek reward and avoid punishment. This is what Pink calls ‘Motivation 2.0’.

This model of human motivation has been in place for many years and has been especially prominent during the last three centuries. In many ways, the Industrial Revolution was fueled by it. During this era, a particular view of business reigned:

“Workers […] were like parts in a complicated machine. If they did the right work in the right way at the right time, the machine would function smoothly. And to ensure that happened, you simply rewarded the behavior you sought and punished the behavior you discouraged.” (Pink 19)

This view of motivation is also known as the ‘Carrot and Sticks’ approach; (the carrot signifying the reward and the stick signifying the punishment). In other words, this model suggests that if you offer the appropriate reward and/or threaten with appropriate punishment, you can obtain a desired behavior.

The fundamental assumption of this era was: “The way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad.” (Pink 19)

This way of thinking has been prevalent for so many years, that it’s second nature to us. We operate based on its assumptions every day, even without thinking about it.

What’s wrong with ‘Carrots and Sticks’? (Pink 21-33)

As the 20th century progressed, this model has encountered some difficulty. Influential thinkers like Abraham Mazslow began to question whether the Motivation 2.0 model was truly accurate.

Nowadays, we know that this model is inaccurate; modern psychology confirms it. It’s not that the ‘Carrot and Sticks’ model is all wrong, it’s just that it’s incomplete.

Pink explains how Motivation 2.0 is not compatible with how we organize what we do, how we think about what we do, and how we do what we do:

1) How we organize what we do (Pink 21-24)

The new business model of the 21st century is open source. Plenty of tools, software and information are made by groups of like-minded individuals for free, on their own time. Sites like Wikipedia, browsers like Firefox, and software like Linux and Apache are just some of the examples.

Now, you may be asking: Why would anyone give their time away for free?

Researchers asked this same question and found that in open-source projects “enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver.” (qtd. in Pink 23)

German economists also found that what drove contributors was a “set of predominantly intrinsic motives […] the fun … of mastering the challenge of a given software problem” and the “desire to give a gift to the programming community” (qtd. in Pink 23). These findings clearly run counter to the Motivation 2.0 model.

In addition, recently a new type of business has been emerging, the ‘not-primarily-for-profit’ business. These businesses exist because of and are driven by a specific purpose; their primary cause is not profit. Examples include ‘L3C’ (i.e. low-profit limited liability corporations) companies in the United States.

2) How we think about what we do (Pink 25-28)

For many years, the prevailing view of human behavior (in economics) was that man is a rational agent who acts in his own self-interest. Recently, this view has been challenged by prominent thinkers in the field of behavioral economics, most notably psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

Kahneman has found that humans are not always rational calculators of their own self-interest; in fact, we often act in unpredictable, irrational ways. Evidence of this can be found in the innumerable ways we fall prey to logical fallacies and cognitive biases; these happen every day, most without us ever realizing. The findings proved that  motivation is not as simple as the 2.0 model suggests.

3) How we do what we do (Pink 21-24)

Today, work is not the same as it used to be.

Take the average workday of the 19th or 20th century for example; work consisted of routine, automatic and boring tasks that were directed by others. Pink calls these algorithmic tasks; you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion.

Nowadays, many jobs are more complex, interesting and self-directed; they involve what Pink calls heuristic tasks.

As opposed to algorithmic tasks, heuristic tasks involve creativity and novelty, because they require experimenting with solutions as opposed to following a pre-made diagram or plan. McKinsey & Co. estimates that in the United States, only 30% of job growth now comes from algorithmic work, whereas 70% comes from heuristic work ( Pink 30).

Researchers have found that the Motivation 2.0 works well with algorithmic tasks, but not with heuristic ones. In fact, they may actually hinder heuristic work, as we will see later. As it turns out, that’s a big problem for today’s work environment,

Additionally, because today’s work has become more creative and less routine, it is now more enjoyable than it was in the past. This also runs counter to the Motivation 2.0 model, which held that workers needed rewards and punishments to motivate them because work was not inherently enjoyable.

The Motivation 2.0 model also holds that because work is not enjoyable, workers must be constantly monitored to ensure they are not slacking off. Nowadays, there are more and more ‘non-employer businesses’ (i.e. businesses without paid employees), which don’t require monitoring.

In addition, an increasing number of workers in the US are telecommuting regularly, which means organizations employ fewer managers, and the managers themselves spend less time monitoring fewer people. Because of this, workers now focus on themselves; they must self-direct, self-motivate and self-monitor.

In many ways, self-direction is the future.

Stay tuned for the next posts!


Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Canongate, 2010.
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