books · PGY-3

Book #2: Drive by Dan Pink

This one was a work-related read. We have a “leadership book club” in my residency program, wherein the Powers that Be select a book on corporate management type stuff to have us read and discuss. I think it fulfills some kind of “systems-based practice” type requirements. Or something.

OK so the premise of this book is that intrinsic motivations are as compelling as extrinsic rewards. That’s a Nobel Prize winning statement, right there. When choosing a field of study or a line of work, no one has EVER considered inherent interest in the subject. EVER. Dan Pink jazzes this up by calling it “Motivation 3.0” (the original motivator being the caveman ethos of eat-mammoth-and-try-not-to-get-killed; and 2.0 being the carrot-and-stick model) and says that businesses should encourage employees to maximize intrinsic motivations instead of extrinsic rewards. Like, you know, salaries.

Happy slaves LOVE pickin’ cotton and banjo’ing! So much intrinsic motivation!

The book starts off with some psychology studies by Harlow (the man who did this to monkeys) on how people like solving puzzles, and if you pay them for solving puzzles, they lose interest, because then it’s about the money and not the cool Rubik’s cube. He then generalizes those findings, bizarrely, to the modern officespace, to say that corporations should pay people “the minimum necessary to live” (???) and instead focus attention on the trifecta of Motivation 3.0: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Look, that’s a valid enough point. If you are lucky enough to have a job that gives you a chance to succeed at all three things (and I do!), you’ll be more invested in the company, happier, and will be a more productive worker. But I think I am a very lucky exception … most people do not have the chance to have a job that allows them to achieve some sense of higher purpose. I have had jobs like that — janitorial work at the local library, transporting patients as a hospital volunteer, transcribing a paper dictionary into a computer. In my case there were all temporary high school / college positions, but there are lots and lots of people whose job, their everyday, pay-the-bills job, is some iteration of the above.

There are plenty of things that need done to keep things turning along. Bus drivers. Long distance truckers. Retail clerks. Cafeteria cooks. Street sweepers. Who is going to fulfill these roles during “20% time,” of which Pink makes a huuuuge deal. (Give your employees 20% of their paid time to do whatever they want. In my case, that time would be spent watching Netflix. Let’s be real.) Pink is very very optimistic when he thinks that everyone works in some sort of magical creative paradise all the time. I envision his “managerless company” as a sort of Lord of the Flies, wherein we all ritually slaughter Piggy on day three.

There are some interesting ideas in the first half of this book about creativity and puzzles and thinking outside the box. It starts to drag about halfway through, and loses its focus. The last 100 pages are a “toolkit” which basically rehash the whole book, in case you weren’t paying attention the first time around. Most frustratingly, he talks a big game about how important institutional culture is in promoting autonomy, mastery, and purpose, but he never once gives any practical tips on how to help encourage that.

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