Book Review: Daniel Pink’s DRiVE

Reading Daniel Pink’s DRiVE took me a lot longer than a 200 page book normally would. I couldn’t stop taking notes while I read it! Normally I’d write in the margins and highlight the good parts, but I borrowed this book from the office library and that’s probably frowned upon. After the fact, I’m really glad I took notes. I learn a lot through writing and reflection and it forced me to dig a little deeper and process the points I would have otherwise only highlighted.

Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsDaniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

The book is subtitled “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” and is in fact surprising, at least at first. His premise is that business (and I’d argue education) management and leadership haven’t caught up with what science already knows: extrinsic motivation is really not all that successful for establishing behavior and pattern changes in the long run. What is motivating? Intrinsic motivation: autonomy, opportunity to pursue mastery, and daily duties that relate to a larger purpose.

I appreciate the amount of research and resources in this book, but more than that– the subtlety Pink uses to blend them into his own words. It never feels like you’re reading an essay or getting lectured, but you walk away from this book smarter. In some aspects, this book is a fantastic read for managers: create an environment that gives employees autonomy in their tasks, time, technique, and their team.

“Management isn’t about walking around and seeing if people are in their offices. It’s about creating conditions for people to do their best work.”

This can be difficult to grasp, whether we’re supervising professional staff or student staff in student affairs (or any environment), but keep reading. This approach requires good hiring, trust, and some training– but the research shows that it yields much higher results and satisfaction. You literally cannot buy this kind of job performance and satisfaction through external motivators, Pink argues. External motivators work for left-brain routine tasks– things that are so uninteresting to you that a reward makes drudging through it worth it. But for work that requires critical thinking or creativity? Rewards and bribes actually hinder performance. Apparently science has known this for 40 years and the rest of us are just discovering it.

Confused? He provides a simple When to Use Rewards flow-chart.

This piece has huge implications for my own work in student involvement and leadership. How easy is it to attach a free cookie, iPod, tshirt, gift card to something — in the hopes that it will motivate college students? There is a time and a place for free pizza, I won’t argue that. But if that’s what we’re using to increase retention, engagement, and affinity between college students and their university, we’re wasting out time and our budgets. We need to be creating opportunities for students to develop autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

“We’re designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice- doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”

A few of my scribbled ideas and questions as I processed DRiVE. I’d love to process these ideas further if anyone’s interested. Read the book and let’s brainstorm.


  1. As an advisor, what can you do to create an environment that encourages creation and productivity, thereby lessening the need for rewards and incentives?
  2. If you could spend one day a week on the part of your job that was most meaningful to you, what would that look like? This reduces the physical and emotional exhaustion many people feel at work (See idea 2)


  1. Programming board members and new members spend the first six weeks in “bootcamp” (like Facebook employees) fixing bugs, learning the culture, meeting other members and committee chairs, then deciding which committees to join.
  2. Increase 1:1 time spent in leadership education with students; collaborate with the Career Center to spread “Walk-In Wednesdays,” encourage students to stop by my office suite for leadership coaching.
  3. Try a “FedEx day” with student organization or staff: Work with whoever you want, create something new by tomorrow: a new idea, product, internal process, form, event, marketing idea, student organization collaboration, t-shirt design, etc. The idea behind “FedEx” is that it must ship (be wrapped up) by the next day.

Not convinced to read it yet? Can I at least interest you in a 10-minute synopsis video? This is a great summary of the research and can be easily integrated and share for staff and student training or follow-up conversations.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I’ve had more questions from strangers about this book at the gym and Starbucks than anything I’ve read recently– and it has real application to the work we’re doing. Whether you’re a supervisor or being supervised, there is a lot to be learned from DRiVE.

What are you reading? Let me know if you read (or have read) DRiVE, I’d love to talk more about the possibilities and big ideas crammed into these 200 pages.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Daniel Pink’s DRiVE

  1. Pingback: February 2013 Book Reviews | Becca Obergefell

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  3. Pingback: Radical, Innovative Drive ‹ The Student Affairs Collaborative

  4. I just recently finished this book and it is definitely on my list of new favorites! I could hardly put it down and it’s a good mix of theory, or idea, with practical steps. I’m trying to think of how to incorporate some of the ideas into me supervising my RA staff this year and even with my students . . . still pondering that!

  5. Another great post! I have had the entire drawing from the RSA Animate for Drive up on the wall in my office all year, and I just now got the book. The RSA Animates are great and certainly print out well. They are great reminders of the messages. I have the full prints from Drive, Language as a Window into Human Nature, and Changing Education Paradigms.

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