Author: Daniel H. Pink
Published: Riverhead Books, December 2009
Genre: Psychology, non-fiction.
Ever since 1949, when Harry Harlow found that monkeys worked harder at solving puzzles when they weren't rewarded, we have known that that our common sense understanding of motivation is not really adequate to explain animal behavior. As time went on, it became apparent that the same was true of human behavior. Over the decades evidence has slowly mounted, showing that sometimes rewards don't make us work better, and sometimes they make us work worse. People take longer to solve problems when they are paid to do so than when they volunteer, artists paint less critically acclaimed paintings when they are paid commissions, and parents are less likely to pick up their children on time when they are fined for picking them up late -- among many other examples.
In Drive Daniel H. Pink collects these bits of evidence and presents them in an easily accessible manner. He does not have any original research to present, but that's hardly uncommon in science books written for the common man. It is easily as interesting as books like Freakonomics and the The Tipping Point, although it is not as wide-ranging in its subject matter or as well written. Honestly, a better comparison would be Nudge, in that it has lots of great information, and twice as much redundant application and speculation in the second part of the book. I would consider this absolutely necessary reading for any parent or anyone who works with children. It would also be useful for any business owner or manager.
The essence of the book is looking at situations when monetary rewards cause people to underperform, or perform in undesirable ways. It also talks about mastery and flow, but those are covered better in other books. The last 60 pages are a self-styled self-help manual, with a quick review, guides to applying lessons learned to yourself, your business, and parenting, a 'suggested reading' list, and various random odds and ends.
The writing is somewhat less than perfect. While the explanations are clear and easy to follow, occasionally Mr. Pink gets over-attached to a label, and tries to apply it inappropriately. He also is trying to stretch the content further than it will go; while the material is well worth reading, it just doesn't take 200 pages to cover it. Some of Mr. Pink's interpretation of the research is a bit iffy, but he is always clear on what comes from scientific studies and what is his own interpretation. As always, use your critical thinking skills when reading material intended for a general audience.
As I said before, this book is well worth reading. There may be another book out there that contains this information in a more integrated manner, but I have not yet found it. I also rather enjoyed reading a book that is interesting, covers important ideas, and does not jump all over the universe in an attempt to tie EVERYTHING together. Sometimes a concept needs to allowed to stand on its own. I highly recommend reading this book.