Once in a blue moon a whole bunch of things come together and they force you to step back and think about the bigger picture. I recently read a book by an author called Daniel Pink – it’s called ‘Drive’ – and the content is really a dissertation on why we do what we do. Not a small topic! It’s a well-crafted ‘package’ and the Kindle edition even contains a succinct summary (to tweet to explain the book’s premise). There’s even a section with ‘leading questions’ for your book club – to prompt discussions about motivation. I don’t think I have seen a book previously that was so cleverly extrapolated – if that’s the correct phrase on this occasion. So, interesting in itself.
But back to MY version of events – the non-canned content summary. What Pink very plausibly presents is the proposition that we all need ‘more’ – but first we need to have ‘enough’. And so Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is referenced in passing. A long time ago – the story goes – we just survived. This was Motivation 1.0. Then we get into the ‘if-then’ paradigm. IF I work hard in a decent job, THEN I get enough money to satisfy my needs. And this is pretty much the model most of us grew up with from the mid-20th century onwards. And Pink labels this as Motivation 2.0. And it’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of roles still have a big element of this equation in them.
But, the theory goes, now we need ‘more’. In fairness I should point out that the book references a lot of substantive research to support this idea. Though the lurking cynic in me would argue that he’s unlikely to come up with evidence to dis-prove the theory. His view is that we have now progressed – once basic needs are fulfilled – to the point of Motivation 3.0. We need to like what we do, we need to be engaged, stimulated and to feel it’s important. This is boiled down to three words. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
Autonomy means that nobody should tell me HOW to do what I do, once I deliver quality results. Mastery means I ‘get a kick’ from being really good at what I do – I’m seen as an expert of sorts. And Purpose means that there has to be a reason for what I do. If I can demonstrate all of these elements, I’m likely to be motivated. An ancillary angle is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The proposal is that intrinsic (i.e. the doing IS the reward) is more motivating, and leads to more ethical and socially acceptable behaviours. While extrinsic rewards (i.e. if, then) means people ‘chase the money’ and ethics falls by the wayside. Without generalising, I can see a lot of evidence in the press to validate this, notably in the Banking sector…
But what I liked about this motivational proposition was two-fold. I could relate to it based on a number of personal experiences and observations. And, not a small consideration this, I could actually remember the theorem. It’s simple, it has a few hooks to stay in the mind, and I could personally think of some real life examples. Which was great. How many books have you read where you could remember the message a whole week after you turned the last page with a contented sigh? I love reading, but quite often I struggle to remember the details a short time later. This one has a message that sticks. Bonus points in my world.
So without regurgitating the whole book, here are a few real life experiences that help me to buy into the basic concepts. Mastery, for example. There is a premise that to become really good at something you probably have to put a minimum of 10,000 hours in. Sounds crazy to begin with, but look at (say) tennis players as an example. They can return that ball unerringly to the same spot time after time after time. This simply does not happen by accident. Ever heard the phrase in a sporting context – ‘the more I practise, the luckier I get’? Of course to this they ally superb fitness, top equipment, technical ability and innate skill. But none of that matters without practise. And then more practise.
Different story. A long, long time ago I went to a major retrospective in Paris of the impressionist painter Paul Cezanne. He had – by the end of his long life – become known as ‘the painter’s painter’. He was that good. The point being however that he was not always that good. The benefit of an exhibit which spans many years is that the casual viewer (me) gets to see developing skills. And even though I saw that exhibition nearly 20 years ago, I can recall how badly he painted his mother in his early years. Frankly, if he’d been my son, I’d have thrown the painting on the fire and used it to heat the kitchen. And kicked him out of the house. Now it was – definitely – way better than anything I could ever produce, but compared to where his endless quest for mastery took him 20 years later, it was plainly deficient. But the real point is, I can remember seeing that many years ago, it stuck in my head, and it corroborates what I just read in this recent book. Even if at the time I didn’t make the connection.
Sticking with mastery, I drifted into a casual love affair with road cycling about three years ago, and am now a card-carrying member of the lycra tribe who go out on Sunday mornings to show off their prowess. We (my new brotherhood of the clingy garments) share things via this curious new internet phenomenon. And so a friend recently sent me a link to a purported ‘rules of cycling’ written by a collective called the Velominati. I will – in my defence – point out that these ‘rules’ are somewhat tongue in cheek, but nonetheless based on tried and trusted theorems. And there it is – as rule #10. ‘It never gets easier. You just go faster’. Mastery in action? Everywhere I look.
There’s one final reason why I’d buy into the core message in ‘Drive’. It highlights the rise in volunteering among people of all generations, focusing particularly on the US ‘baby boomer’ generation of the forties as they came to retirement age, and a rise in ‘pro bono’ work among college kids as they graduate in the early 21st century. We can see this trend all round us, with people engaging in many different aspects of this theme, whether it’s coaching junior sports teams, adult literacy, going to do project work in foreign countries, or environmental angles. And I can see that this growing quest for purpose is a response to our inner motivations.
So there you have it. We all ‘need a reason’ to do what we do. And if the basics (food, shelter) are taken care of, we find it through Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. I think I’ll remember this simple message, not least because I see the proof all round me. I’d call that a book with staying power.