My Summary on “Drive — The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” from Daniel H. Pink — and how we can learn from that for a remote work setting.
TLDR: Remote leadership requires autonomy, mastery and purpose.
We no longer live in a stone-age setting where our instincts drive us to do our work, better said: to hunt for food and make sure to survive.
We also no longer live in an industrial factory setting where we algorithmically reproduce simple tasks.
Instead, most of our workforce power comes from heuristic problem solving for creating novel solutions.
And not just since COVID-19, more and more companies realise that they don’t require employees to be physical together at a shared workplace, and even start to see more and more motivational upsides once people are un-caged from their workplace boundaries.
But a remote leadership setting requires an upgraded understanding of what drives people. Management in a remote setting cannot use monitoring and controlling methods that have been present in management since people have been “overseen” in factories during the late 19th century. They require an evolution of management. And we should replace the term management with inspirational leadership. This way, we can focus on intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic rewards or punishment, shift from overseeing single pre-set steps of working towards awareness for the results.
And that is where Daniel H. Pinks “Drive” kicks in, showcasing Motivation 3.0.
Daniel Pink explains in “Drive” different motivational factors from the instinct-driven Motivation 1.0 to the carrot and sticks driven Motivation 2.0, up to the intrinsic driven Motivation 3.0.
His outcome is that significant parts of today’s leadership styles are still based on old school management theories from the industrialisation (Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management). “Manager” too often “manage carrots and sticks”, but should understand that people’s fundamental nature is not to need any external management. Our default setting is to be curious and self-directed.
I cannot stress enough how convinced I am about this default setting of curiosity, and that’s what makes all of Pink’s theories so important to use it as a leadership framework for remote and distributed teams.
What Motivation 2.0 is
With his approach of “scientific management” Frederick Winslow Taylor developed in the early 20th century an “operating software” to manage workers as parts of 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 behaviour you sought and punished the behaviour you discouraged”. This approach seemed logical and still is widely adapted.
Minor Update: Motivation 2.1
Mid 20th century showed that treating people solely like cattle doesn’t work well with more complex structures and tasks. Management scientist Frederick Herzberg:
“proposed that two key factors determined how people fared on the job. The first were “hygiene” factors — extrinsic rewards such as pay, working conditions, and job security. Their absence created dissatisfaction, but their presence didn’t lead to job satisfaction. The second were “motivators” — things like enjoyment of the work itself, genuine achievement, and personal growth. These internal desires were what really boosted both satisfaction and performance and were where managers ought to focus their attention.”
Pink, Daniel H. Drive (p. 18). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
And with Herzberg and the work of other scientists along with him, some minor refinements could repair weaknesses of the old model. But they “amounted to a modest improvement rather than a thorough upgrade — Motivation 2.1. And so this general approach remained intact.” That’s because it’s already broadly implemented, easy to understand, simple to measure and to enforce.
Open Source: because it’s not Motivation 2.0
Pink compares Microsoft’s Encyclopedia (based on economic interests and proven to be a huge failure) with Wikipedia (open source, solely based on volunteer work) and shows why open source projects work despite there is not a single motivational element based on “Motivation 2.0”.
Open Source: “Flow”, purpose and non-economical rationalities
Unlike some might assume, optimal experiences are mostly not experienced during leisure but during work. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls those optimal moments “Flow”. Studies of open source projects show that participants are driven by “a set of predominantly intrinsic motives — in particular the fun of mastering the challenge of a given software problem and the desire to give a gift to the programmer community.” Giving to the community, contributing to a higher goal gives purpose and drives developers to code for such projects.
We have a desire for purpose.
Same counts for the large market and big movements of not-for-profit or not primary for-profit businesses. Like NPOs, NGOs, L3C (Low-profit limited liability companies) or the social businesses that Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus started to spread around the world. “These are companies that raise capital, develop products, and sell them in an open market but do so in the service of a larger social mission, with the profit-maximisation principle replaced by the social-benefit principle.”
Some countries like Denmark have the legal concept of a “for-benefit organisation”, some U.S have the “B Corporation”.
We don’t work based on economic rationality.
Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman pointed out that economics must be understood as the study of human economic behaviour and the human part has not been studied enough until now. Most business management theories are still based on the “hyperrational calculator-brained person”, which is nothing more than a convenient fiction.
Instead, emotional, intrinsic factors override rationality.
Take this well-known example:
“Play a game with me and I’ll try to illustrate the point. Suppose somebody gives me ten dollars and tells me to share it — some, all, or none — with you. If you accept my offer, we both get to keep the money. If you reject it, neither of us gets anything. If I offered you six dollars (keeping four for myself), would you take it? Almost certainly. If I offered you five, you’d probably take that, too. But what if I offered you two dollars? Would you take it? In an experiment replicated around the world, most people rejected offers of two dollars and below. That makes no sense in terms of wealth maximisation. If you take my offer of two dollars, you’re two dollars richer. If you reject it, you get nothing. Your cognitive calculator knows two is greater than zero — but because you’re a human being, your notions of fair play or your desire for revenge or your simple irritation overrides it.”
Pink, Daniel H. Drive (p. 25). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Where Carrots and Sticks can’t work
Carrots and sticks can work in a special setting though, Pink points out: when prescribed routine tasks need to be performed. Simple, algorithmic tasks that neither needs any form of heuristic thinking, creativity or smartness. Those type of workplaces still exist, no doubt, and they still play a strong part in our economic system. But those jobs will get replaced by machines sooner or later, most of them are done offshore, and the least of them are possible to fulfil in a remote setting. So please excuse my over-simplification: I do not take this group of work into consideration with my thoughts about remote leadership.
What Motivation 3.0 is
The 1970ies brought up the social psychology based Self-Determination Theory which, in contrast to Motivation 2.0 is not based on external punishment or reward but on three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. When all those needs “are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.”
Pink calls those “Type I” — intrinsic, in comparison to “Type X”–led by extrinsic desires.
Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.
Pink, Daniel H. Drive (p. 71). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Motivation 3.0 requires us to turn from Type X to Type I. Intrinsic motivation to unfold and flourish requires three elements to be present:
Management needs to restrain from changing our default setting of being autonomous and self-directed towards external motivation. Instead, today’s leaders need to boost the autonomy of their team members. That is how they outperform.
People work best when they have autonomy over tasks (what they do), time (when they do it), team (with whom they work), and technique (how they do it).
Instead of just following the rules, people need to be engaged. True and full engagement can produce mastery: becoming better at something that matters. According to Pink, the most motivating aspect of many jobs is, in fact, continuously making progress in one’s work. That can be achieved by balancing the challenges we face so that they match our abilities: not too overwhelming and unachievable on the one side, but also not too boring on the other side. Pink calls them “Goldilock tasks” — I love the term. And we already know that concept as “Flow” from Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (read a summary here in Hannes Kleist’s review of his book).
(…) mastery also abides by three peculiar rules. Mastery is a mindset: It requires the capacity to see your abilities not as finite, but as infinitely improvable. Mastery is a pain: It demands effort, grit, and deliberate practice. And mastery is an asymptote: It’s impossible to fully realise, which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.
Pink, Daniel H. Drive (pp. 222–223). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
As already shown in the open-source example above, people seek to make a contribution to a cause that is greater and more enduring than themselves. Purpose is not ornamental but a necessity. Purpose maximisation needs to go hand in hand with profit maximisation and often even takes its place. Motivation by purpose is part of a company by:
- goals that use profit to reach purpose
- words that emphasise more than self-interest
- people being able to pursue purpose on their own terms
Remote leadership: focus on autonomy, mastery and purpose
Once we are aware of those three elements that are the underlying desires for intrinsic based motivation, we can transfer that to remote leadership:
- Give the remote workforce autonomy over tasks, time, team, technique.
Leadership: focus on results and outcome, help people with providing the best tools to unfold their performance.
- Let mastery guide people to continuous performance improvement.
Leadership: provide a framework to unfold flow. Keep the work distraction-free. Balance task with matching skills by providing “Goldilocks”.
- Give purpose. To the overall goal, to the individual and to the process.
Leadership: give up on short term profit maximisation as a goal in itself.
See Daniel Pink explaining Motivation 3.0 himself:
What are your experiences for motivation in a remote work setting?
Happy to jump into the conversation!