Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is a book about motivation. For that reason alone, it is inherently relevant to professionals in learning and performance.

So you may have already read it for that reason – or because the author, Daniel Pink, keynoted the eLearning Guild's 2006 Annual Gathering – or because Pink had a popular TED Talk on the topic – or because Drive was a national bestseller in 2010.

If you haven't read Drive, here's the gist: There is a huge gap between what motivates humans and the systems that companies typically use to motivate them. Where companies tend to use “carrot and stick” systems of rewards and punishment based on money and praise, humans are actually motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

External or “Type X” systems of measurement and management often demotivate and dehumanize individuals, as well as stifle creativity and innovation. Companies with “Type I” cultures, which foster intrinsic motivation through environments in which workers have autonomy, mastery, and purpose, are much more successful at maximizing performance in the long run.

These ideas are huge for managers and leaders, and they also impact at least three key aspects of being a learning and performance professional: how you work, what you produce, and the larger context in which consumers use the products of your work.

How you work

Put simply, you are a knowledge worker, and therefore your creative ability is absolutely key to your success. You should make efforts to understand the aspects of your environment that impact your creativity – both positively and negatively – so that you can figure out what you can change and what you should walk away from.

One of the examples in Drive that hit particularly close to home for me, knowing so many people who do contract work, is the effect of the “billable hour”:

The billable hour is at the heart of private legal practice and is perhaps the most autonomy-crushing mechanism imaginable. Most lawyers – and nearly all lawyers in large, prestigious firms – must keep scrupulous track, often in six-minute increments, of their time. If they fail to bill enough hours, their jobs are in jeopardy. As a result, their focus inevitably veers from the output of their work (solving a client’s problem) to its input (piling up as many hours as possible). If the rewards come from time, then time is what firms will get. These sorts of high-stakes, measurable goals can drain intrinsic motivation, sap individual initiative, and even encourage unethical behavior.

Does that describe your work environment … or are you working within any other system of scrutiny, even micromanagement? Is being in your chair by 8:00 am and still in it at 5:00 pm more important than the quality of the work you do? If so, Drive can be a frustrating read, because it describes the ill effects of systems that you may feel are beyond your control. If that's the case, don't fail to read Part Three of the book, in which Pink outlines Type I strategies for individuals and organizations.

What you produce

Drive also has many implications for the design of learning experiences. Let's look at just one.

I'm writing this immediately after serving as a faculty member for The eLearning Guild's 2012 eLearning Foundations Intensive. My topic focused on authoring tools, and I've had several opportunities to respond to questions about the effects of locking down navigation in courses. At one point I joked that it can give learners “navigation rage” because they can't easily get to the content that they want.

Taking this question in the context of Pink's elements of motivation, though, provides a deeper insight: Forcing learners to adhere strictly to a predetermined path violates their sense of autonomy. It sends the message that the learner's preferences aren't important; what's important is the order in which the “authority” has decided to present the material, as if the learner's brain was not capable of locating the gaps in her knowledge and finding the information required to fill it. This is something that humans do every minute of every day, and yet, we often ask people to suspend that natural process when they are in the role of “learner,” and passively receive the material we're presenting in the order we want to present it.

Locking down course navigation is one seemingly small design decision, and yet when you can see it as a violation of one of the elements of motivation, it starts to be clear why so many people don't like eLearning, and why we end up spending so much time and energy trying to “engage” them through stunning multimedia instead.

And since one of the elements of motivation is mastery, you may have already guessed that a section of the book has some specific lessons for learning design. In the chapter on mastery, Pink does a fairly deep dive into Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow and how it is affected by the level of difficulty of the task being performed. He also explores the mindset of mastery and how our environment affects that mindset through, for example, feedback given by educators.

The larger context

And speaking of people not liking eLearning (or training in general, for that matter)…

Recently I've gotten into a few conversations about training being used as punishment for rule violations or poor performance. On the surface, this makes a kind of sense; if someone has broken a rule because he or she doesn't know how to do a job, it seems intuitive to educate the employee on the correct course of action as part of an intervention. But what does it say when a company has to enforce compliance or “motivate” performance through this kind of system of punishment? What does it say about the kind of training this company will want you to create?

In a “Type I” company, workers are driven to learn so that they can improve their performance and their team's performance, and serve the goals of the organization. What kind of learning experiences would best serve this kind of company – and this kind of employee? Courses? Job aids? Immersive worlds? Games? What kind of systems and processes would support those learning experiences? Would a LMS that has a difficult-to-navigate interface, but which does a great job of enforcing prerequisites and tracking completion, block access to learning? Or would content be available on demand, findable, and searchable? These options aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, and there are no black-and-white answers. There are, however, lots and lots of interesting questions.

Part three of Drive further explores the issues of learning design and context, under Type I for Parents and Educators. Though we often think of training and education as separate, and there are many ways in which that is true, this section of the book provides some excellent springboards to think about the work you do now and directions in which you may want that work to evolve.

Drive is an excellent read if you're a practitioner who wants to understand more about your own motivation and the motivation of your learning audience, and it's a must for anyone who manages or leads knowledge workers. Have you read it? What other takeaways did you glean? Keep the conversation going in the comments!

Bibliographic information

Pink, Daniel H. (2010) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Trade. 272 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1594484803.

Publisher’s List price: $16.00

Amazon: Paperback $9.60, Kindle $9.99

Barnes & Noble: Paperback $9.60, NOOK $9.99