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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, explores some misconceptions about what drives human behaviors. For example, one commonly held belief is that if you provide larger monetary incentives, people will perform better. This turns out to be true for simple, mechanical tasks, but false when applied to complex tasks that require conceptual reasoning. For the latter, better outcomes are achieved by providing autonomy, providing people with the opportunity to master the subject matter, and creating a sense of purpose.

This brilliantly animated video summarizes some of Dan’s thinking. It’s well worth 10 minutes of your time. Enjoy!

This Post Has 51 Comments
  1. Wow that was fantastic to watch, pretty eye opening too! Thanks for sharing it.

    Found you via Stumble, by the way! 🙂

  2. Apple uses this video as an excuse not to pay their employees commissions. I call BS on it. Money is a prime motivator. 

    1. Sure are a lot of rebuttals to this video with little to no evidence or sources. An intelligent person looks at the present research, interprets the information and develops a belief about the subject. I suggest you go out and do just this. If you still hold your current beliefs then come back and repost with some sources. As is, you are a nobody and nobody cares about your opinion.

      1. but the video didn’t give any real souses….lol. If i did that on a works cited page in class id get an F for trying to spread misinformation lol.

    2. I would not work for free. But I agree that if you pay someone enough money they wont worry about how much they are making and be more motivated to work. If my employer paid me enough money to live off of and enough money to buy a few luxury toys and have that money consistently come in every month I would be more motivated to work. Incentives are bullshit. Even if an incentive was a million dollars one time payment. I still wouldn’t be motivated because I know that I wouldn’t be getting that million every year and it would eventually be spent without replacement. On the other hand 100,000k/year for the rest of my life is equivalent to 5% interest/yr on a $10,000,000 nest egg that will be made year after year without risk. That sounds much better to me.

    3. Well I don’t remember who but some big-shot chain-store owner too once said – “I would have daisies on my grave before I reward people for individual performance”. So you may have an opinion but it may not be right…

    4. It’s BS because working retail at apple doesn’t require cognitive thinking… you just follow the company line, so the $ incentive SHOULD be the motivator.

  3. From someone who works in finance and where money is used as the main motivator I couldn’t agree more with this video the logic is there and has been proven.

      1. Absolutely! Money isn’t the only thing that encourages people to strive towards excellence. It’s refreshing to see businesses in corporate America make room for other things other than just money as a motivator. -Sarah

  4. I recently put my notice in at work where I am paid large sums of money to do the same work every day because my line manager isn’t interested in making things better, he only cares about keeping things working, which unsurprisingly leads to lots of requests for new things that we could have provided in 5 minutes but instead spend days wasting our time to provide. My job, with a massive wage, has no sense of purpose.

    The job I am going to, by the sound of things, has a sense of purpose and the people who interviewed me understood exactly where I was coming from and for this reason, for the same amount of money the current company is paying me, I am going to work for the new company doing more work.

  5. So true. People who actually need to think for their work definitely do require some independence and to be treated as a person with a brain, who can make decisions and not waste the companies money by going in circles.  When there is no purpose other than to do rote jobs, all sense of purpose is lost, no mastery is accomplished and if you are lucky, some of the money is there!

  6. The problem is, if you take away the highest incentive because people are failing at that level, you make the medium incentive the new high incentive. Then those people begin to fail because mentally they are striving for the new highest incentive offered. Therefore, you must have a small number of people failing at a high level in order to “motivate” the medium incentive people to work harder. But then the problem is that you have to let the highest level people fail without letting the people in the medium bracket know that they are feeling. If they realize they are striving for a failing position, the medium people will lose motivation to move up into an evidently failing incentive bracket.

  7. My company (Software as a Service industry) does a Science Fair, where all employees are allowed to work on their own project (using corporate work time and resources) to build something that they believe will contribute.  It lasts two days – and at the end of the science fair, everyone had a blast, and the company gets amazing innovative ideas that often are so good they are IMMEDIATELY put into effect.  It is truly amazing when you enable and engage your talented people. 

  8. Motivation is the only fuel that drive us to do something great and this video has shown alot of ways to motivate some one.

  9. Most interesting. As we are all trying to engage our employees more, the suggested rational is plausible. I will definitely share it at work and see how others see the issue and suggested outcome. Thanks.

  10. I do manage skilled workers and i use money as positive reinforcement and punish sub-par work. This tactic is enough and proven. This video’s author is to idealistic and only knows a  LITTLE  theory and NO practice. I welcome debate but over 70 percent of my employees have been promoted and become reliable assets to our company. I’d like to know more specifics on where the author got their statistics because they are obviously “fudging” the numbers lol. If you teach your workers to value themselves and their company, instruct rather than order ,and have a strict reward and punishment system your workers will succeed period.

    1. lol… buddy – you would be right in most cases, but not when the author is Daniel Pink. He is an economist – he ‘THINKS’ in terms of practical and what’s absolutely scientifically 100% proven. I have heard his audiobook and it is amazing.

      You won’t believe how careful he is in his tests and the various factors he considers that can affect/influence the results (to the absolute minutest detail). If it were mere theory – he would not dare ‘utter’ it to others, let alone teach/lecture on it.

      I don’t even understand how you can make the above comment when you say you have done something (give your employees incentives) and just assume it works. You haven’t even tried ‘not giving them high incentives’ (which the video is about) – so you don’t even know if you are right and reward-punishment works better. And yet you say – his theory is wrong. I would be happy if you said – I
      tried what he suggests and then say – it doesn’t work. And yet you say
      ‘HE IS THEORETICAL’ ??? Are you kidding me here.

      Also he clearly says – incentives method works very well when the work is mechanical. So maybe most of the work your workers do can be categorized as mechanical work (they just follow a set of rules to get an outcome).

      He also mentions where he got his stats from -> tests conducted by top economists from MIT, University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon. Another one a research funded by federal reserve.

      1. I see a point in your argument, but the cold hard fact is he didn’t “prove” anything. His style of delivering information reminds me of Glenn Beck or Michael Moore in that he says, “MIT and Carnegie Melon did a study.” We should ask ourselves who specifically and what makes these sources credible. My workers are not merely  cogs and gears either they are highly skilled and all have degrees of some kind or another.  The truth is I don’t dangle carrots in front of my workers. I set realistic goals I expect them to achieve and help however I can, and one way i do that is with my incentive program. I do think through research I have found something that affects work performance differentials in different levels of caste based corporations in a quite staggering way. You should check out the work of Robert Sapolsky I think you will find his research interesting to say the least. He is a very credible source and winner of the MacArthur genius grant  and shows a direct relation to stress and work performance in hierarchy based primate groups ranging from baboons to humans.

        1. The 10-minute video is a summary of Dan’d book, which in turn is a summary of decades of research by dozens of researchers (the book has scores of citations). I’m sure you and I can take issue with some of the underlying research, but I think you go a bit too far when you characterize it as a Glenn Beck / Michael Moore style rant.

          1. Maybe I’ll buy Drive and check it out after I’m done with this other book I’ve emerged myself into. I havn’t had a good non-fiction in a while.  Hey any of you guys check out Robert Sapolsky’s work yet. I think by you guys I mostly mean Akiria and AD. We may not all agree but observing the other comments leads me to believe us three are the brains of the  I relay think you two will like him. His stuff isn’t hard to find he’s been in National Geographic several times and I saw a Documentary not to long ago on PBS that summarized his whole life work which was pretty cool. I mean it could’ve been more in depth but what are you going to do it was only an hour long.

          2. Nope. Haven’t heard of him. Thanks for the suggestion. Checking him out right now… Stress-theory doesn’t seem to be my cup of tea, but I still feel that it might just contain some good stuff.

      2. I am so glad that you have made the exact right point for your ‘dispute’ with this video – not many credible sources. Glad that am talking to a bunch of smart, rational people who ‘get it’ and not a bunch of idiots.

        But guys, this is just a short 10 min video. He HAS proof of these facts – just not mentioned them here. For one – check out a slightly longer video of his on Ted Talks. Its one of the most popular videos – all time. Or check our Dan Ariely’s books (Predictably Irrational) and videos – because that’s where he get’s these facts from as far as I know.

        Also lastly – he has mentioned that this effect has been replicated over and over and over again by psychologists, sociologists and economists.

  11. I didnt like how he used the Federal Reserve as backing for “mainstream” and as an example of non biased organization when it comes to the study of economics.  It is neither. 

    1. I don’t know how in the world you got the impression that – he tries to lend credibility from the fact that the research was sponsored by federal reserve. I am sorry for being so -ve, but I don’t think this is the true reason you dislike it…

      You know once he was conducting an experiment to see the difference between 1 penny and free, and even though the results were pretty conclusive – he thought that the results miiiiiiight be skewed cause of the fact that people may or may not have a change of 1 penny with them. And so he modified the test according to that (made it such that they can just add the bills to their monthly canteen bills and pay the whole amount later). So that’s the extent to which he is careful with his experiments.

      Not to mention he is a lecturer at MIT. His book has been on the bestseller list since ages. And none of the other economists dispute these theories – it is only lay-men, and fools who think they are too smart (like many of the commenters here) who seem to dispute these theories (not referring to you)…

      1. You sure do defend this guy alot when he doesn’t seem very credible to me sorry to tell you this but they let any one do lectures and he didn’t drop any names either. My teachers would kill me if I tried to turn in somthing as bad as this video.

      2. That last line wasn’t a shot at me was it jk lol. Hey I may respectively disagree with key points but at least im not mean like that jacobiangod asshole. He is just plain mean.Have you read his comments? Come on bro you can’t say that no economist disagrees with Pink it only took me 5 minutes of web browsing to find out that he has harsh critics in his own field of study. I am not saying they are right or anything but not every one is going to like this video and your gonna have to get over that. I mean you can’t assume that everyone who disagrees is an idiot one of his critics is Ben Stein who some people think is smart. I used to but he does those intelligent design seminars and lectures at the colleges now and come on intelligent design realy Ben. Im sorry im ranting but I hate the theory of intelligent design. 

        1. lol..hahaha…No I think you are a smart guy. In fact, I think am so much like you, except with an opposing point of view.

  12. The critical point here is that money has a NON-LINEAR impact as a motivator – it rapidly recedes as a motivator after a certain point..  Generally speaking, when folks have nearly enough money vs others in similar circumstances, other needs and desires rise up a potential motivators – below that point, money become a dominant dis-motivator.

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  14. In general I agree with the gist of this article, although I have not read the original research.  In a high tech environment I have not found money to be a major motivator, although LACK of money can be a big de-motivator.  I am curious to know if there is an explanation for the finding in the second study in India, where the higest reward gave the WORST results.  I can understand it not being a strong motivator, but why would it be a strong de-motivator?

    1. That’s a good question. I just looked it up in the book (on pages 40-41 of the hardcover edition). Pink summarizes the results of the experiment, and he writes “Four economists — two from MIT, one from Carnegie Mellon, and one from the University of Chicago — undertake research for the Federal Reserve System, one of the most powerful economic actors in the world. But instead of affirming a simple business principle — higher rewards lead to higher performance — they seem to refute it. And it’s not just American researchers reaching these counterintuitive conclusions. In 2009, scholars at the London School of Economics… analyzed fifty-one studies of corporate pay-for-performance plans. These economists’ conclusion: ‘We find that financial incentives…can result in a negative impact on overall performance.’ ” 

      So it sounds like the empirical evidence supports this idea, at least under some circumstances, but the underlying cause has yet to be explained (or maybe it is, and I didn’t dig deep enough in the book). Experience contradicts common sense — which is probably why Pink used the word “Surprising” in the title of his book.

  15. I think everyone is correct in certain situations. I know close friends that have taken large pay cuts to go do something far more interesting. I also know that if bills are stacking up and “baby needs new shoes” a real head of the house hold will do whatever screwed-up job he can get to get the bill monkey off his back. For me, money talks. Money can’t buy happiness but it sure can buy-off a lot of anguish.

  16. I agree.  Taking on new projects and assignments that challenge my creativity give more satisfaction than additional income.  If I were asked to do more of the same old thing though more money would certainly help.

  17. It almost seems foreign in its notion, but with examples
    like Wikipedia, its fundamentally true, it’s a paradox, I also loved the way
    you presented the information, thanks for sharing it with me, i will ping the
    video to my social networks and see what they think about the subject


    If you found this interesting, you should watch Mark Zuckerberg deploy these tactics in Bloomberg TV’s “game changer” video. Its absolutely amazing. Ive pointed out the best parts below!

     18:50 – “hack-a-thon”, 24:00 – collectively organizing bright individuals around the world to do work for free (facebook apps), and also 35:30 – building something just for the sake of building it (sheer enjoyment of “mastery”)

  19. Sure. but what got passed over quickly was “paying people enough so money/security isn’t an issue”. That’s called financial freedom. Once we have it we can focus on purpose and contribution. This thinking is not revolutionary at all. All the greatest purpose driven philanthropists in the world first achieved financial freedom.

  20. He seems to have a misunderstanding of the fundamentals of how incentives work. Incentives aren’t “if we pay them more, they will work better,” rather it’s “if they work better, we’ll pay them more.”

  21. To find out what motivates people, study the motives behind war. If people are not willing to fight for something, it’s not incentivizing.

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