Daniel Pink: What actually motivates us


Daniel Pink on the surprising truth about What motivates us

Book digests

As the world gets more complex, it is increasingly difficult to keep up with even the most essential reading. This is particularly so for architects because so many fields of learning impact upon its creation, interpretation and assessment.

To accumulate into a useful archive, each issue of Citizen includes digests of writings readers deem particularly useful or revelatory. Because the best writing tends to be of long-term value, digests are not restricted to those of recently published material. And the selection is largely left to readers to reflect the diversity of architects’ interests and inspirations.

Readers willing to contribute to this ongoing series are encouraged to first contact the editors proposing a book or article they consider particularly appropriate.


Architectural education imparts skills and knowledge. But becoming an architect is also about self-reflection on what kind of practitioner one wants to become – and more importantly why one wants to pursue this career path. What is the reward we get from our studies and work? What drives us to get up every day? And how can we sustain our creativity in the long run?

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H Pink, New York, Riverhead Books, 2009

Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us asks us to reflect on these important questions. With a law degree and professional background in economic policy, including a stint as chief speechwriter for Vice-President Al Gore, Pink’s story of transforming his working life resulted in his first bestseller Free Agent Nation. Drive takes his interest in what motivates us and how we can lead fulfilling and productive lives further.

Pink defines three key drivers for motivation: 1) Autonomy – the desire to be self-directed; 2) Mastery – getting better at what we do; and 3) Purpose – to be part of something bigger than ourselves. All three, he argues, hinge on intrinsic motivation – so-called Motivation 1.0 – doing something because it is challenging, fulfilling, and because we enjoy doing it. As opposed to Motivation 2.0 – based on if-then system of reward and punishment.

Drive is set against a wider societal shift from 20th- to 21st-century work – where digitisation and automation make many jobs obsolete and more new work relies on cognitive skills. Pink argues that while the carrot and stick system works really well for simple tasks requiring basic and mechanical skills, cognitive skills render it counterproductive not only to people’s performance, but it also prevents creativity and innovation. Worse it incentivises bad behaviour as people will take short cuts to extrinsic rewards. He cites an example of setting targets on the number of car repairs mechanics must meet, leading to unnecessary repairs and overcharging to customers.

A significant experiment described here followed artists several years after graduation and nearly twenty years later. Those who were intrinsically motivated – where ‘the joy of discovery and the challenge of creation were their own rewards’ – not only weathered tough times, but eventually achieved greater recognition and extrinsic rewards (success and money). The paradox is that those who were least driven by extrinsic rewards, were those who eventually received them.

This is not to advocate depriving yourself. Pink simply says that if you ‘take the issue of money off the table’ through fair remuneration, other forces will have an impact on our motivation, productivity and creativity.

Importantly, unlocking intrinsic motivation helps us achieve long-term goals rather than impairing our creativity by focusing our attention only on short-term rewards. As Pink puts it: ‘Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing towards the horizon’. Moments of crisis could propel this shift. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that behavioural and societal change can happen – and happen quickly – when a common purpose is clearly in front of us. Thousands of people coming together to help others; innovation in science and medicine; and new government programmes including a £2billion cycling and walking initiative that sets out a comprehensive, long-term vision to increase active travel. That such investments could negotiate the hoops of policy makers just a year ago was unimaginable.

Even more significantly, we could interpret Pink’s analysis against the backdrop of the climate emergency, which requires an entirely different decision-making rationale from top-down policies through to our individual daily actions. Because the reward for our actions and changes of behaviour is far from immediate, tackling climate emergency cannot be dealt with by carrot and stick. We need a common long-term purpose, we need autonomy to develop creative and innovative solutions, and we need mastery to deliver them at scale.

In 2020, the Architects Declare movement mobilised our industry with the joint purpose of achieving zero carbon; home working unlocked more autonomy for people to direct their lives and work schedules; and our global condition has shown that delivery – whether it comes to Covid vaccines or innovation to tackle climate emergency – can be achieved through collaboration.

Drive inspires reflection on our own purpose as part of something bigger than ourselves. One strategy from the toolkit that forms the last chapter is to define oneself in one sentence. What is your sentence?

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