Review of Daniel H. Pink’s ‘book that will change how you think and transform how you live’.

I would recommend this book especially to those regularly frustrated or stressed, or otherwise with a high chance of burnout, but everyone else as well.

This was the third suggested book of our Book Circle, which I read in the end of October 2020. The second was Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the fourth was Getting Things Done.


Part One: A New Operating System

‘Motivation’ has three flavors, or ‘operating system’ versions as they are being referred to in the book.

  • 1.0: Getting everything needed for survival: food, shelter, safety, and other basic needs
  • 2.0: ‘Carrot and Stick’ - extrinsic motivation based on pleasure and pain or monetary reward
  • 3.0: Intrinsic motivation, which can be far more powerful than extrinsic motivation

I was really surprised by how much performance suffered and focus narrowed when monetary rewards are offered, especially for problem-solving tasks. These are the main societal tasks nowadays. I liked that a fair amount of studies is cited throughout.

The offering of money is a strong signal for its inherent ‘work’-attribute. Monetary penalties switch moral frameworks to a utility-based one (they get paid for it), while the punished behavior will increase (double or more) for small penalties.

Monetary incentives do work for brain-dead-simple tasks, though: there is no intrinsic motivation that could get killed in the first place. To increase effectiveness for these tasks: acknowledge it’s boring, explain why it’s necessary, and let everyone do it their own way.

Unexpected rewards (monetary or otherwise) work well for intrinsically motivating tasks, until they become expected entitlement.

There is a model as well: Type X people are those mainly motivated by extrinsic properties, Type I are mainly motivated intrinsically - they always outperform Type X beavior over the long term.

TLDR; Extrinsic rewards are bad for motivation on tasks that are, or could be, inherently interesting.

Part Two: The Three Elements

Autonomy is acting with a choice instead of only being demanded things continuously. Autonomy emerges when people have control over their task, time, technique and team. Have 20% of total work time as creative time, during which people are allowed to do whatever - it will increase overall productivity and employee satisfaction. A number of companies do that with resounding success.

The urge to master something new and engaging is the best predictor for productivity. To master something, the environment needs to be ‘flow’-friendly: clear objectives with quick feedback. Have learning goals, not just productivity goals. Not being allowed to experience ‘flow’-moments leads to severe symptoms of anxiety disorder within 48 hours.

Letting people do what is meaningful to them reduces burnout rates significantly. This can also mean to explain better why they are doing something, as well as what the meaning behind an activity is or how the company depends on a certain success. Benefits include higher levels of satisfaction, subjective well-being, along with increased productivity while decreasing anxiety, depression and burnout significantly.

TLDR; Intrinsic motivation builds on three pillars: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Part Three: Type I Toolkit

Optimize for situations producing ‘flow’ by sampling throughout the day while looking for patterns. There is no need to be flawless, but have small improvements each day. Take longer sabbaticals to do what you want, and review your learning as well as performance goals every month. Do deliberate practice regularly, and get feedback.

Make sure everyone is aligned on purpose and mission. Do not make your teams compete within. Pay above average, or add other perks: make money a non-issue for your employees.

Praise effort as well as strategy instead of intelligence, never couple allowance to chores for children.

TLDR; Set your own goals, do what you want, do something where you can get better, and reward yourself right.


I am glad I read this book. Fundamentally it was nothing new, but the amount of detail and implications made it absolutely worth reading. ‘Drive’ provides a decent gears-level understanding of how motivation works, moreover I can see the same mechanisms working within myself.

Main Takeaways

  • detailed understanding about motivation, and it’s mechanisms
  • what to do, good working conditions, and what absolutely not to do as an employer
  • allows for motivational debugging within myself: ‘why don’t I want to do this?’
  • a number of lists with resources at the end of the book


The book is well-structured, has few but good examples along with clear explanations. I don’t fully agree with the ‘versioning’ model, but I can see how it’s useful. It felt like the book was repetitive at times. The advice given can be actioned upon, moreover the book is easily skimmable and usable as a reference. I especially liked the lists with specific application tips at the end.

I would recommend everyone to read this book, but especially those regularly frustrated or stressed, as well as those with jobs that have a high risk of burnout.

Favourite Quotes

[…] external rewards and punishments […] can work nicely for algorithmic tasks. But they can be devastating for heuristic ones. (page 30)

It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them. (page 46)

[.] most of the scandals and misbehavior that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts [to external rewards]. (page 51)

By offering a reward, a principal signals to the agent that the task is undesirable. (page 54)

For routine tasks, which aren’t very interesting and don’t demand much creative thinking, rewards can provide a small motivational booster shot without the harmful side effects. (page 62)

The businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover. (page 91)

[In short], management is not the solution, it’s the problem. (page 92)

[They found] that those who did the best typically spent the most time and effort on the mundane activities that readied them for the [challenge]. (page 125)

At the end of each day, ask yourself whether you were better today than you were yesterday. (page 155)