Motivation 3.0 – Pink Does Maslow

Dan Pink’s “Drive” caught on as a best seller in the last couple of years in promoting the concept of “Motivation 3.0”. Of course, the terminology catches the fashion of the internet generation, and good luck if the brief readable book, with its “Toolkit” of ideas does lead to more management catching on in more organizations. (Hat tip to Robin for bringing up Pink’s Drive in a business call.)

Some many resist its obviously “faddish” looks, and some will be attracted precisely by that latest-fashion aspect, but like all good messages, there is nothing new under the sun. Absolutely nothing, and that’s why you can tell it’s good, despite the tag line “the surprising truth” – nothing could be less surprising, even though it opposes “received wisdom”. The core idea of autonomous engagement is very simple, far from rocket science, and not difficult to implement providing one overcomes the fear of letting go.

In a word, the first aspect – Autonomy.

People perform better if given a reasonable degree of autonomy. The hard bit is working out for your own particular case how much is reasonable, but even then, Pareto’s 80:20 rule of thumb says, anything less that 20% autonomy ought to be considered suspect, 32% autonomy a normal case, and 80% autonomy about as good as it gets. Go figure. No need to read on if that’s self-evident already.

Anyway, between then (F.W.Taylor and Abraham Maslow say) and now (Dan Pink say) there have been a thousand management gurus plying their trade in the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st. Each standing on the shoulders of giants, though as I often point out, in order to do that, you have to recognize the giant. Even the original Psybertron agenda (About >> Agenda) includes recovering from the status quo where “management mistook itself for a science” – a thinly veiled allusion to the errors of Taylorism. Very old news. (Gurus that spring to mind, all referenced in this blog, include; Taylor, Maslow, MacGregor, Ouchi,  Argyris, Parker-Follett, Drucker, Handy, Peters, Godin, Gladwell, Ariely, Pink to name but a few, and not to mention the myriad of empirical anthropologists, behavioural-psychologists, scientists and philosophers of mind on whose research they depend. You no doubt have your own favourites.)

If we go back to Maslow, we can superimpose quite easily the evolving story that management gurus are trying to communicate to us. In fact he has been much maligned and, as I already blogged, there is a significant movement to rehabilitate Maslow in the “positive psychology” school.


Naturally, the first three levels of Maslow, are pretty much accepted as basic human rights anywhere in the developed and developing world, so they quite rightly look antiquated as motivators these days. They remain important of course, if you understand the hygiene rule. And like all generalizations, exactly what motivates / demotivates in each band varies by individual and circumstance; any general rules implied are “for guidance of the wise and the enslavement of fools“. And, as Theodore Zeldin reminds, us we all have imperfect knowledge and understanding as well as limits to our own competencies, whatever our motivation. In the modern “professional” world most people find themselves somewhere through Motivation2.0, with diminishing returns on, even seemingly-perverse negative responses to, extrinsic rewards as motivators. As Pink highlights, we’ve been struggling with variations of Motivation2.x (ref any number of management gurus) on our way to recognising Motivation3.0 for what it is.

The other main thrust of Drive is Engagement.

Once properly motivated and “empowered” by autonomy, the point is that people can properly engage with tasks, achieving a sweet-spot in performance. Zen and the Art of … doing what you do well … Optimisation is achieved when the task and the person effectively become one – there are no extraneous distinctions between the task and the person – what a radical empiricist / monist like James or Pirsig might call “dynamic quality” – or kinetic quality, relationalism, inclusionality, you name it – what has been dubbed “flow” since Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

And finally for now, this is all closely tied to the movement that suggests we all recognize the difference between our life’s work and our day job. Or to express that the other way around, the closer our day job – the one that pays the bills – comes to our life’s work – that which we find intrinsically valuable to our purpose and meaning in the world – the better for all of us.

[Post Notes:

Oh look, the following day Dilbert is on topic too:

And recently, Gaping Void’s Message for the Next Generation.
[And on the motivational commencement speech genre, try the one by David Foster-Wallace.]

Further Reading ?

If any of this looks  new or unbelievable to you,
or you can’t imagine how you would apply it in real life,
then read Dan Pink’s Drive, it’s an easy read with practical advice.
Or if you prefer, start with this video animation.

Pink has his own list of further reading, so I won’t put a spoiler here;
suffice to say Peter Drucker is amongst them.
In this up to date context, Drucker is interesting and impressive;
generally recognized as having been the guru of management gurus,
he himself acknowledged his own debt to Mary Parker-Follett.
(Drucker and Parker-Follett jumping off points already linked above.)

If you want some deeper background on the psychology,
or more generally on “how the mind works” in these contexts,
my recent favourites are Haidt, Kahneman, Kauffman and McGilchrist.
Not to mention recognizing the “flow” in the “peak experiences” writings of
James and Dewey, much-used by much-maligned Maslow.]

[Post Note : An interesting corrective on real autonomy and empowerment. It’s bottom up you dummy.]

[Post Note : Here an interesting reminder that Maslow’s Hierarchy / Pyramid is a later visual representation of Maslow’s ideas, maybe by Drucker or Parker-Follett. Not critical to my position – since ideas evolve anyway, and the essential value is there – but might be worth researching who originally proposed that evolving representation? Hat tip to @DrSarahEaton and @JulesEvans77.]

[Post Note : And an “Engagement” version of Maslow from David McInstosh Jan 2016:


[Post Note: And in 2018 Meaning as engagement in life itself by Steve Taylor in Psychology Today.

My own single sentence summary of the Meaning of Life:

Your experience will vary, but
there is an evolutionary hierarchy:

… from yourself and your loved ones
surviving to live,

… culminating in our striving
our best contribution to
wider humanity and the cosmos.

There is no more. All questions are about “what’s best?”.
See also #HTLGI2018 notes. ]


An underused word (like the word “grace”). Nice piece from Hugh McLeod at Gaping Void (hat tip to tweet from Dave Gurteen). Message to the next generation to notice the difference between a life’s work and a career in a day job. In this case, based on the advertising business, but good for bringing in this Joe Campbell quote too:

“Follow your bliss.
Find where it is,
and don’t be afraid to follow it.”

Joseph Campbell – The Power of Myth

A common message from the wise to those starting out. Here my favourite plea from Richard Russo in his 2004 commencement address.

“While you search for this work, you’ll need a job. [It’s] a fine thing to be good at your job, as long as you don’t confuse it with your work, which it’s hard not to do.”


No Environmental Risk ?

Hmmm, the environment proves pretty resilient to these disasters in the medium term, but “no risk” is a tall claim.

Lots of condensate already and very sour and CO2-rich gas from a deep unproductive well. Wonder how long they can avoid ignition ? Presumably no option of “detaching” this fixed platform from the scene ?

Well done on a complete evacuation.

Coryton’s Future?

I did quite a few jobs at The Coryton Refinery over the years in the Mobil, then briefly BP, days before it was sold to Petroplus. Interesting that it is the Swiss parent company that is actually going bust – wonder where the losses actually are? And I wonder what their ownership is  – oil majors, or more general investors? (They also own one of the Teeside oil depots.)

Would there be any value in BP buying the concern back – I don’t believe they actually own and operate any UK refineries directly these days since Grangemouth was also sold to Ineos. Are old refineries just not viable in Europe/UK? What were Petroplus expectations when they originally bought Coryton, not really all that long ago?

(Pretty sure shortages is a non-issue other than distribution logistics adjustment.)

Designers Who Code

Interesting Garry Tan piece.

Reminds me of a conversation years ago – and several since. A colleague reporting to myself and another manager simultaneously found herself conflicted. As an engineer whose job had nothing directly to do with producing software products, she announced she was doing a course on coding (some variant of C, back in the day). Not asking specifically for funding or time off, just a bit of leeway and acknowledgement for her initiative. We needed tools and, whilst she / we never envisaged she’d be producing the tools we needed, she’d be better placed to understand the process of getting them delivered against our needs. I was game, but the other manager told her that coding was skill she didn’t need and more or less (publicly) instructed her to drop the course.

Regretted several times myself not learning coding, beyond noddy script-editing stuff. Increasing understanding of processes you need to manage is obviously part of it, but often we’ve concluded that producing a working prototype of what was needed, is much more effective than writing a comprehensive specification between engineer and developer, at either the individual or inter-organizational level. (If software is your business, interactive, iterative prototyping “agile” methods have been the rage for some time, but those for whom software is “merely” an enabler of core business could learn a thing or two.)

(The counter argument, really just a call for balance, is not to have the hobbyist hacker “secondary” developer get too far into the product process before you have an unsustainable, unmanageable, mill-stone of a product on your hands.)

Understanding Computers

Interesting to hear this morning’s news item on Google and Microsoft pointing out to the UK Government that knowing how computers work is more than learning “office and social network tools” – those are purely functional ICT skills anyone should have.

Slightly worrying that people don’t see anything between “code” and “office tools” – there’s more to information “science” than computer code, and even code comes in many architectural levels. Still, encouraging to get this on the education agenda.

Also in a Zen and the Art kinda way, encouraging to hear the parallel with engineering and the motor car. Anyone benefits from “appreciating” how their tools interact with themselves and their world. It’s worth remembering:

“The real motor / computer you’re working on is yourself.”

Coding the new Latin ? Surely not, but catchy phrasing by Alex Hope used as Rory’s headline, and who knows maybe the classical take on “knowledge” will get picked-up as the real point.

Interesting too that the background to the Raspberry Pi was driven by school-leaver / university-applicant low-quality computer science knowledge. A whole Linux computer on a thumb-drive. Not sure why the focus on video graphics capability ?

The Meme of Maslow’s Mojo

I mentioned noting that Maslow seemed to becoming rehabilitated by the Positive Psychology school. And following some recent links starting here with Matt May, I also found this 2007 Chip Conley publication in the “airport bookstall” business management space. There are three sides to the Maslow story.

(1) There is a neat and tidy attraction for the amateur psychologist (and manager) interested in “motivation”, in the simple hierarchy of needs. And I’ll continue to defend its usefulness as such. Pragmatism is not a dirty word.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

But hey, like any easy to assimilate meme, of course the attractive simplicity hides important detail.

(2) Clearly Maslow’s Hierarchy is a huge generalization. Differences between individuals are lost. Differences between different “classes” of individual are lost. And it’s all too easy to read it as prescriptive in terms of rigid hierarchical logic, whereas it’s actually a useful framework for guidance. And, he of course never actually presented it as a simple hierarchy – if ever there was “just a theory”, this is it. Clearly it was written from a “professional class” perspective – in the same way as history is written by the “winners”. Clearly, not every individual needs to satisfy all of one level before responding to needs in a higher level. Clearly, different individuals may demand quite different material resources to satisfy any given need, and much of that individual value model is cultural, even mythological. There is also the clear “hygiene” effect – that lower levels once comfortably satisficed, cease to play any part in ongoing motivation – they simply become risks to be avoided (in fact for me, this has been the primary point of the hierarchy). But the general ordering of priorities holds pretty true. Other professional psychologists have attempted to analyse the needs into many distinct drivers of human individuals. Reiss’ 16 basic desires have been much cited as a more accurate model of motivators – though I have to say they suffer the same risk of prescriptive generalization and anyway, it’s easy to re-group them in ways that reduce to Maslow (if reductionism is your game). Professional psychologists, like fundamental physicists hopefully, will argue over the details for more centuries yet. Hence the need for pragmatism – how does it work for you ?

(3) But the real need for rehabilitation comes from another direction. The slippery slope(s). One is the “professional class” perspective, and another is the “holistic” angle of an umbrella across both material / objective drivers and the more subjective / spiritual aspects of well-being. And in fact historically these two slippery slopes have run into each other in fascist extremes of elitism. The cultural and holistic angle draws on eastern mystical viewpoints to balance the objective scientism – Maslow included, and many a reputable philosopher before him, such as William James. Peak experiences and the subjective experiential aspects of self-actualization – being all you can be. The professional class elitism is also inescapable – some classes of people know better – Maslow himself wrote on this, extreme views that became public only posthumously. Such extreme views that some have associated him with eugenics and the like, though he never signed-up to any specific initiatives so far as I can tell. Try getting into a well-informed rational debate about that. Two exchanges and Hitler and Stalin are the topic on the table. Game over.

[Aside – if not obvious – I myself espouse elitism – reacting against the popular democracy cry surrounding so many complex moral issues. Crowds are not (necessarily) the wisest arbiters. I myself also espouse mystical mythologies beyond objective scientism. Science is not (necessarily) the best answer to every question.]

So. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is OK.
Use with caution, within the limits of any simple generalization.
And if you value elitist or mystical models of wisdom, beware the (obvious) slippery slopes. Individuals are special (not generalizations). Being wise, you probably already knew that ? Personally, I believe people who hold purely rational-objective (scientistic) value-models are actually the ones who need to do the most bewaring. Either way – beware.

[PS – Chris Locke (aka Kat Herding, aka Mystic Bourgeosie) I have a lot of time for in his exposing the “Numinous Lunacy & Sanctimonius Narcisism” of what he calls “New Age ++”. For me “he doth protest too much” but he is a good counter-balance to those who fall hook-line-&-sinker for the mystical holistic alternatives to common sense. After all it was he that co-wrote way back in the ClueTrain Manifesto:

No.29 – Elvis said it best:
“We Can’t Go On Together,
With Suspicious Minds”

Trust is the top level of the W3C architecture. Nuff said.]

[Post Note : In checking up the state of play with Maslow starting with the links mentioned, I Googled around naturally, coming across many sources I’ve used before both enthusiastic and sceptical. The little essay by Lynne Shandley of Virtual Accident , Australia, was as succinct and unbiased summary as I’ve seen, with the three key links within it to take your interest further. These guys are practitioners in safety training.]