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.”


Egyptian Spreadsheets & MesopotamianML

In these days of mark-up languages believing they have made spreadsheets old-hat, I often point out that spreadsheets are a mark-up language, that they were invented by the ancient Egyptians and they still have a long life ahead of them. In fact it seems they were invented by Mesopotamian accountants before being taken across the Red Sea to Egypt.

Of course in these days where the latest mark-up language is “the best sliced bread” since the previous mark-up language, I saw a very interesting slide at a conference late last year that showed how clearly spreadsheet cells map to RDF OWL Triples. (A slide Kari Anne borrowed from Thore I understand.)

[Post-Note: Followed up this thought and the Thore Langeland “triples” reference in a paper on by business site. “For the Love of Spreadsheets”.]