The Secret To Motivation

I have just finished reading Daniel H Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. It has changed my thinking about motivation. I thought my followers would appreciate some key points I learnt when reading the book.

First, a short history of motivation, which is important because Pink has developed a new theory on motivation based on lessons learnt in the past and also from his extensive academic and scientific studies. Initially, motivation was about survival, think caveman times – I need to eat, drink and find shelter today, or I don’t survive. Fast-forward to the next big change in motivation history, the advent of reward and punishment. You may know it as “carrot and stick” management.  This is where if you deliver the goal you have set, you get a reward. If you didn’t, the punishment for not achieving gets you motivated to deliver better results. This commonly used style actually diminishes performance, crushes creativity, crowds out good behaviour, can encourage unethical behaviour, create addiction, and foster short-term thinking.

Thinking about “carrot and stick” and a reward-orientated culture, do you still get as excited about a reward you have received many times before? I know as my career developed, a great bonus payment just became the norm, and it wasn’t as exciting to go and chase after a while. Or getting a sales incentive won didn’t feel as special 2nd or 3rd time around. Sounds crazy to write that, and I was always grateful/felt fortunate to receive things, but it’s true. After a while, the same rewards didn’t motivate and make me think – oooh I got to deliver more results because the reward is great!

These types of rewards can be like that big caffeine dose or sugar hit. You can get a temporary boost to how you feel and perform, but when the caffeine or sugar wears off, the crash comes, and you are struggling to do anything.

An exception to the theory that carrot & stick is bad, argues Pink, is in rule-based and routine work. This is because there is likely to be little intrinsic motivation to undermine and not much creativity to crush. To get routine work completed, acknowledge that some tasks are boring and allow people autonomy over how to complete them.

To understand the new motivation theory you have to appreciate we all have an innate need to direct our own lives, learn, create new things & do better by ourselves and our world. To keep motivated the performance of the task has to provide an intrinsic reward (enjoyment). If you enjoy what you do naturally, you will be motivated.

But if you either need some help in getting enjoyment in what you do, or if you want to build a high-performance culture, you need to develop Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.


With our innate desire to direct our own lives, people require autonomy over what they do, when they do it and how they do it. You could try a results-only management style here. Rather than stifling people with a million KPI’s why don’t you just give them one clear goal, a timescale, and the freedom to deliver the result how they want it. Organisations like Apple have done this and come up with some industry-changing ideas along the way!


Mastery is driven by our natural urge to get better at something. It helps to have this urge because without engagement you will struggle to produce mastery. The result of mastery for you and your company could lead to exceeding goals, expectations, and performance. On the pathway to mastery, you must have “flow” which is where the challenges you face are matched by your abilities. To get flow to create “goldilocks tasks” that is to say tasks that are not too hard, not too easy but just right to build your skills, abilities, and mastery. (Now you know why I chose that Goldilocks pic for this article!). Mastery is also a mindset – you should see your abilities not as finite, but as always something to be improved. Mastery is also painful, it requires effort, grit, and deliberate practice. Mastery is an asymptote; it is impossible to fully realise which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.


Purpose can be a hugely powerful motivator. The goals that you set for yourself and others should get you working on and toward your purpose. The purpose should be pursued on your own terms, but it emphasises more than self-interest, it is doing a service to something larger than ourselves.

As I build a business, we focus on autonomy, mastery, and purpose. This is because we need high performance, creativity, good behaviours in staff, ethical practice, and long-term thinking. Do you, your organisation or your team do the same? If not, perhaps you should work on the three key elements of motivation and benefit from happiness.  Great results naturally follow.

What do you think?