Book Review: Drive



Daniel Pink

My Rating

star star star star

In recent years there's been a clear change of management philosophy in tech companies. Nowadays there is no escape from company bloggers or conference speakers waiting to boast about how wonderful their pancake management structure is, or how liberated and empowered their delivery teams are.

Many, of course, are merely paying lip service to appease their vanity. But I know for a fact that some companies genuinely do just throw problems at their teams and allow them to find solutions as they see fit.

Clearly, whether we believe the bloggers and speakers or not, there is definitely an ideal vision of a tech company making its staff feel wanted and giving them the freedom to work how they please. Contrasting with traditional, top-heavy management practices.

If you want to understand the reasoning behind this modern ideal, I highly recommend that you read Drive by Daniel Pink. He puts forward the claim that purpose, autonomy and mastery are what humans need to feel at their best and be most productive. Accordingly, Pink argues that these three critieria should be at the heart of the modern organisation, replacing micro-management and financial incentivisation.

A Well Reasoned History Of Management Styles

Pink begins his justifications of purpose, autonomy and mastery with a chronological journey that includes pertinent psychological research and business practices. He shows how traditional beliefs in psychology, that people are motivated by financial incentives, were reflected in the way organisations at the time were run - based on the view that work was something people disliked and sought financial recompense to motivate them or fear to push them.

Pink then counters these beliefs with the suggestion that, actually, carrots and sticks are rather ineffective motivators. He cites studies that show people performing better on creative tasks when there are no financial rewards. 

Linking those findings to management approaches, Pink then says businesses should operate this way. Don't motivate your staff with money, give them autonomy to think for themselves. Give them the opportunity to pursue mastery so that they are motivated to continually better themselves. And definitely give them a sense of purpose so that they understand the importance of their contribution.

But Room For Skepticism

At times I found the narrative to be a touch idyllic and anti-establishment. But writing a book is ridiculously hard so I can overlook those without too much concern that I'm being sold a dud.

However, one of the examples Pink relies on so heavily, google's infamous 20% time, does leave room for doubt. Pink uses 20% time to show what an amazing, modern company google is, and how it worked for them so we should all take inspiration. But we all know there is a lot of doubt around google's 20% time. The common belief I am aware of is that it was actually 150% time.

But, I've worked for a company where 20% time was honoured. I actually used it more than anyone in the company. And that was easily the best and most productive company I've worked for. So don't rule out Pink completely, that would be foolish. As always, a bit of critical thinking needed.

Techniques You Can Try

I respect that after making his point Pink also makes the effort to provide some examples of how you can apply his findings to your life and the workplace. I'm not overly amazed by the examples, though, and my opinion is that being armed with the knowledge of purpose, autonomy and mastery is the key takeaway from this book.

Some of his suggestions involve creating motivational posters, trying 20% time at your organisation or giving yourself a performance review.

Overall, Drive is an important book that would instantly  improve many people's leadership qualities. By having a reference point of purpose, autonomy and mastery, I certainly feel that I will be able to work more effectively with other people.

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