Daniel Pink, the guy who coined the term “free agent” and literally wrote the book about working independently (Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself/Business Plus, 2002), recently wrote another book that identifies what motivates us – and it’s not what most employers think.

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink draws on years of motivation research and analysis to identify the three things that will draw out our best efforts:

Pink points out that most companies think the best way to motivate employees is to either 1) pay them more or promote them to higher-status positions or 2) penalize them for failing to meet performance requirements. This is the time-honored “carrot-and-stick” approach to motivation, which tends not to bring out staffers’ best contributions.

Instead, companies should find ways to connect with their employees’ desire for autonomy, mastery, and purpose if they want to create a high-performing, highly-motivated workplace. (Which is not to say, of course, that pay increases and promotions aren’t always welcome!)

But understanding personal motivation should be just as important to you as an individual as it is to your employer. As you take responsibility for your own career success, understanding what motivates you can help you do a better job of evaluating possible jobs, employers, and career paths. You may find that one of the three motivational factors outweighs the others for you personally; in that case, you’ll want to seek out jobs and/or career paths that best support your needs. But the key take-away here is that when you are evaluating potential opportunities, in addition to considering more traditional factors like salary, title, and benefits, you’ll also want to assess whether a job’s “motivation environment” is likely to provide the career (and life) reward you seek.


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink. Riverhead, 2011. 272p. ISBN 1594484805.

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