The Most Motivating Things I Learned from Drive by Dan Pink

The most interesting things I learned from Drive by Dan Pink and how I intend to use them to better motivate myself and others.


For better and for worse, this is not a snack-sized summary of Dan Pink’s, Drive. It’s not a book review, either. The world’s got plenty enough of both of those already.

What follows are my takeaways from Drive that I most want to remember to apply in my life. I made it for myself, but hope you might find it helpful, too.

In This Post

What The Book Is About

Drive is about the opportunities of shifting from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation in business and life. Pink offers his own “Twitter summary” at the end:

“Carrots & sticks are so last century…we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.”

– Dan PInk
Crossed out carrot to represent extrinsic motivation.

Why Extrinsic Motivation (Mostly) Sucks

Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, grades, praise, and pageviews (thank you for reading!).

When to Use It

For uninteresting tasks that don’t require creativity and have a clear path to completion. Pink calls these “algorithmic” tasks.

Why Not Use It Otherwise

It undermines intrinsic motivation.

For example, I can condition my son to clean up after himself by helping him develop the identity of not being a selfish slob. But if I start paying him to be tidy, he may believe he’s cleaning up for the money and lose that identity. Then, if I take that payment away, he’ll resent me and make an even bigger mess.

It puts your blinders on.

Keeping your eyes on the prize works for the algorithmic tasks but prevents you from seeing the bigger picture, spotting alternative paths, and pursuing more worthy rewards.

It doesn’t last.

“Rewards can deliver a short-term boost just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off and, worse, can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.”

It’s dirty fuel.

Like coal, it’s easy and cheap to access and efficient to use but less sustainable.

Intrinsic motivation is like solar energy. It can be harder to install but less expensive, safe, and endlessly renewable.

It leads to fewer extrinsic rewards in the long run.

While extrinsic motivation can outperform in the short-run, “it is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them.”

Intrinsically-motivated companies outperform in the long run, too:

“Several researchers have found that companies that spend the most time offering guidance on quarterly earnings deliver significantly lower long-term growth rates than companies that offer guidance less frequently.”

It harms your health.

“According to a raft of studies…people oriented toward autonomy and intrinsic motivation have higher self-esteem, better interpersonal relationships, and greater general well-being than those who are extrinsically motivated. By contrast, people whose core aspirations are [extrinsic] validations such as money, fame, or beauty tend to have poorer psychological health.”

If You Can’t Help It

If you feel compelled to provide an external reward for a task that is better suited for intrinsic motivation, at the very least:

  1. Make the reward unexpected.
  2. Award it after the task is completed.

Such rewards “are less likely to be experienced as the reason for doing the task and are thus less likely to be detrimental to intrinsic motivation.”

Symbols to represent the intrinsic motivational tools of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

How to Nurture Intrinsic Motivation

We are all intrinsically motivated out of the box and only become “passive and inert…because something flipped our default setting.” To flip these sensitive switches back and carefully keep them that way, we need to:

  1. Avoid the dirty fuel of extrinsic motivation for the reasons I’ve noted.
  2. Plug into the three prongs of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


Autonomy is having control of the 4 Ts:

  • Task: What you do.
  • Technique: How you do it.
  • Timing: When you do it.
  • Team: Whom you do it with.

Make desired actions a choice, not an obligation. Otherwise, play becomes work. “Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Empowerment is not autonomy. “It presumes that the organization has the power and benevolently ladles some of it into the waiting bowls of grateful employees. But that’s not autonomy. That’s just a slightly more civilized form of control.”


“The desire to get better and better at something that matters.”

It’s a learning mindset rather than a performance mindset (Carol Dweck’s terminology). Ability over awards. For example, studying to be more fluent in French rather than to get an A in French class. “Begin with [a performance] mindset, and mastery is impossible. Begin with the [a learning mindset] and it can be inevitable”—or get closer to, because mastery “is impossible to realize fully.”

Mastery hurts. Sometimes, many times, it’s not much fun.” But this “mundanity of excellence,” as Daniel Chambliss calls it, is what makes mastery rare and meaningful. As Mark Manson wrote in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, “Who you are is what you are willing to struggle for.”


“The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.”

Purpose turns the intrinsic motivation driven by autonomy and mastery into overdrive. It’s akin to transcendence from Scott Barry Kaufman’s book on the new model of self-actualization.

Symbols for autonomy, mastery, and purpose pointing toward the logo for The Zag.

How I’m Putting Drive Into Gear

In the spirit of injecting myself with information diabetes-treating insulin of WWIDDBOTI (“What will I do differently based on this information?”), here are the two ways I plan to immediately put what I learned from Drive into action:

  • Hammer purpose harder. I’ve done well embedding autonomy and the pursuit of mastery into my life, but will make a conscious effort to remind myself of the purpose I’ve chosen: To help people overcome bias and complacency to lead more extraordinary life stories.
  • Eliminate extrinsic motivation. Its short-term effectiveness doesn’t seem to be worth the long-term risks. So when I want others (or myself) to take a specific action—sign up for my newsletter, put their toys away, show my wife more appreciation— I’ll avoid carrots and sticks and instead ask myself, “How do I make it the intrinsically obvious choice?”

Speaking of intrinsically obvious choices, if you enjoyed my summary of Drive, you might choose to check out one of these related posts:

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đź‘‹ I'm Chris. Everything you read on is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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