19 Top Ideas for Education in Drive by Daniel Pink

used with permission of the author

Drive the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. 2009. by Daniel Pink

I finally finished Drive, by Daniel Pink. Since I had read so many reviews about the book, seen the video (below), and engaged in many education discussions about motivation, I felt like I knew the book before I started. I am glad that I read the whole book to fill in what I’d been missing. Drive contains enough that is important to the current discussions of education that one more blog post about it is worth the effort (if I may say so myself).

Clearly this book has a ton of ideas relevant to education. I’ll start by repeating Pink’s own twitter summary of the book:

“Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.” (p 203)

In this era of education reform focused on carrots and sticks (seems like mostly sticks right now), I wish more ‘edreformers’ would listen to this idea.

(At the end of this post, I embedded a nifty video from RSA Animate that does a wonderful job summarizing the book.)

A large section of the book focuses on how goals work in the age of creative thought-based tasks. I have culled out a few nuggets followed by my commentary (page numbers refer to 2009 hardback).

1. “Routine, not-so-interesting jobs require direction; non-routine, more intersting work depends on self-direction.” (p 32)

Obvious education connections.

2. “An incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity ended up clouding thinking and dulling creativity. Why? Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus.” (p 44)

How many times have we educators offered more points on an assignment to those students who will be creative in their project. Maybe we shouldn’t.

3. “By neglecting the ingredients of genuine motivation — autonomy, mastery, and purpose — they limit what each of us can achieve.” (p 49)

When we apply these ingredients to students and teachers we get exciting results. We get people who are invested in what they are doing.

4. “The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road.” (p 51)
5. “The only route to the destination is the high road.” (p 51)
6. “Goals may cause systematic problems for organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation. Use care when applying goals in your organization.” (p 51)

Most schools and books about education argue for setting goals. Are we using enough care?

Clearly the current flavor of Ed Reform is using goals to try to get results. Anyone who has been involved in schools in recent years will tell you we also have:

    • a narrowed focus
    • some unethical behavior (cases of cheating or mis-respresenting statistics)
    • a massive decrease in intrinsic motivation – many teachers talk about the joy being tested out of teaching

7. “By offering a reward, a principal signals to the agent that the task is undesirable. (If the task were desirable, the agent wouldn’t need a prod.)” (p 54)

Obvious classroom management and parenting ramifications to this idea. So many of us use complex rewards systems in class. Time to stop.

8. “But introducing an “if-then” reward to help develop mastery usually backfires. That’s why schoolchildren who are paid to solve problems typically choose easier problems and therefore learn less. The short-term prize crowds out the long-term learning.” (p 58)

There are whole districts who use reward systems to boost short-term test scores and claim great success.

Once the reward disappears why continue learning? Are the students really learning anything or just getting good at test-taking?

9. “Positive feedback can have an enhancing effect on intrinsic motivation.” (p 67)

A kind word goes a long way. Written praise goes even further.

10. “We should focus our efforts on creating environments for our innate psychological needs to flourish.” (p 72)

Pink goes on to discuss the meaning and importance of autonomy and mastery in motivation.

11. “It requires resisting the temptation to control people — and instead doing everything we can to reawaken their deep-seated sense of autonomy.” (p 89)

Most educators that I know are control freaks. Giving up some of that is quite challenging yet so rewarding.

12. “Yet in our offices and classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement.” (p 112)

Standards-based grading should help with this.

13. “In flow, people lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away.”

This sounds like ‘Being There’ from the Fish Philosophy. When we can be in flow during people focused activities, we will really make those people feel a sense of belonging. There are days in school when I focused so tightly on the students and staff that I was in the flow. I lost all sense of what else could be happening in the world. Often, my wife would call to bring me back (literally) because I lost track of time.

14. “…’Goldilocks tasks’ — challenges that are not too hot and not too cold, neither overly difficult nor overly simple.” (p 118)

We need this in the classroom as differentiated instruction. Maybe technology will help make the workload more manageable. Maybe additional staffing could do it. Maybe a whole new system. We have a lot of work left on this.

15. “The young people recognized that setbacks were inevitable on the road to mastery and that they could even be guideposts for the journey.” (p 123)
16. “The best predictor of success, the researchers found, was the prospective cadets’ ratings on a noncognitive, non-physical trait known as ‘grit’ — defined as ‘perseverance and passion for long-term goals.'” (p 124)
17. “‘Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.’  -Julius Erving” (p 125)

I’d add that a pro must also do the things he hates on the day he doesn’t feel like doing them if they are part of the job. As teachers, we could work to eliminate boring, meaningless activities so that students can have an easier time working on things they love.

18. “Mastery is an asymptote.” “Mastery is impossible to realize fully.” “Why not reach for it?”

First, I love the word asymptote. Cool word. Second, I am reading Mindset by Carol Dweck, as mentioned by Pink, to learn more about how to help people (myself included) want to reach. Third, as soon as we think we have nothing left to achieve, we will start drifting away from mastery. Like Pink writes about famous athletes, we can always get better. This might be most important to the already high achieving schools that don’t seem to want to improve.

19. “Children careen from one flow moment to another, animated by a sense of joy, equipped with a mindset of possibility, and working with the dedication of a West Point cadet. They use their brains and their bodies to probe and draw feedback from the environment in an endless pursuit of mastery.”

Now, we just have to guide them to the learning and let their natural flow do what it does best.

The last section of the book, the Toolkit, contains several practical steps for individuals, organizations, and schools. I was most interested in the following three toolkit items:

* Three-part Type I Test for Homework
* Autonomy over how and when to do the work?
* Does the assignment promote mastery by offering a novel, engaging task?
* Do my students understand the purpose of this assignment?

* FedEx or 20% time for the students

* Offer praise…The Right Way
* Praise effort and strategy, not intelligence
* Make praise specific
* Praise in private
* Offer praise only when there’s a good reason

Drive is an important look at motivation in a time when those in charge of the education reform discussion are pushing extrinsic motivators that do not work for teachers. I’d like all those involved in Ed Reform to understand the ideas in Drive; maybe then, they would change their tunes and begin thinking about what is really good for children.

For a great summary of the book, please watch this video:

cross posted to Principal’s Point of View.

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  1. Eric Roth said:

    Surprising , informative, persuasive, and illuminating!

    Thank you for both sharing this strong book review, exceptional video and satisfying summary for fellow language educators! The central premise that autonomy matters most matches my classroom experiences with high school, adult, university, and graduate students. For the past 15 years, I’ve emphasized that I expect students to become “autotelic – self-directed” as we co-create their assignments. Of course, the challenge remains how to tailor assignments for individual students while reaching larger curriculum goals of large educational institutions.

    By the way, I’m going to get Pinker’s book and add this video to my recommended video list for the Spring 2011 semester.

    Again, thank you!

    January 5, 2011
    • Eric,

      You certainly identified a major challenge at all levels of education these days.

      Thanks for reading.

      January 7, 2011
  2. Mike Reading said:

    Fantastic book! I use this extensively in my Motivation Made Easy course for teachers. I had the chance to spend a small amount of time with Dan one on one in November – top guy and genuinely concerned for teachers.

    January 6, 2011
    • MIke,

      Your course looks interesting. Do you ever present in the USA?

      January 7, 2011
      • Mike Reading said:

        Hi Larry,

        I haven’t yet – it is on my ‘to do’ list for 2011. Just in the process of building my contact list. Would you be interested in helping me find some interested principals? In return I would make your school a priority and speak for you for no charge.

        January 12, 2011
  3. Having listen to Dan Pinks Keynote at the SSAT National Conference (Video – freely available) there was a lot to take in. Efficient summary, educational context useful. Thanks

    January 7, 2011
    • Always glad to hear that something I’ve written might be useful. Thank you.

      January 7, 2011
  4. […] mejor que algún grado o algún sistema de recompensas. Como dice Daniel Pink en la unidad, “Recompensas, por su propia naturaleza, nuestro enfoque estrecho … por […]

    January 18, 2011
  5. April Coleman said:

    Hi Larry,
    I am facilitating a staff development this month for Gwinnett County Schools in metro Atlanta and would like to use this blog post as a discussion. Our topic is motivation and how we kill learning unintentionally. Is it OK w/ you if I print copies to read and discuss?


    February 8, 2011
    • Certainly. I would encourage you to have some copies of the book to give out to those interested in reading more.

      Than you.

      February 9, 2011
  6. Rupalina said:

    Drive is an absolutely awesome book by Daniel Pink. There is no better time than now to upgrade the world to 3.0, the 2.0 is clearly crashing.

    Another page i love is the, Type I Movement, community page on Facebook. An open forum for fans of the book and type I’s to collaborate. Also you get a daily excerpt of the book to your news feed!

    November 8, 2011
  7. Wafa Hozien said:

    As an educator I am in Drive mode 24/7 coming up with innovative ideas on the way to work and at the dinner table. I run my ideas no matter how minuscule by my colleagues. We either run with the idea and integrate it, and if it works, then all power to us and if it does not then we re-evaluate it. But our work day does not stop when the school day ends nor does it begin at that point in time. I get the people around me including my family to chime in on innovative ideas. They have provided immediate timeless feedback.
    I believe that there are a whole lot of educators who are in this mode as well. Always driven to find new challenging ways to think and re-think what they are doing. Something that I do like about my job is that it is autonomous to a certain extent and that the teachers are given a sense of purpose and autonomy. In education, we always seek out mastery. We are always seeking innovative ways to collaborate and in creating success in others at every turn. This is at the heart of all that we do. Innovation breeds creativity which in turns leads to success.

    June 18, 2012
  8. Emma Rachelle Moody said:

    I myself have had ideas lately. That of this nature and beyond. What if school systems weren’t about the achievement as a group but of each individual, their needs, their strengths, their goals, their struggles, their dreams? What if each class wasn’t based in AP, Honnors, Standard? What if… to succeeed each classroom was individually by learning technique. I myself learn from listening to someone talk, while others may learn hands on, or by watching someone do something. We not only need to encourage creativity, that is a univeral idea! I wrote an essay last month about how in the Renissance the arts started merging into school, how it bettered off those who came out of a university. I also feel, the school system is weak in large class numbers, and small amounts of counselors encouraging individaully to each student how school beyond their education in high school is a wonderful goal. Today, no one talks to us about scholarships except in the program AVID. WE need students to be one on one with a teacher more often. Even a country wide education curriculum would be nice. To offer everything the students wish to achieve and more, and support… that would be a wonderful thing.

    October 25, 2012
  9. Great post! I just started a blog ablot how principals can motivate teachers and my first 5 blogs have been about Daniel Pink’s “Drive.” I really enjoyed it and it set me off on a series of motivation readings. Check out the blog posts at http://motivationalschoolleadership.blogspot.com
    I’d love to hear your thoughts.


    January 6, 2013
  10. Jill Bergerhofer said:

    Hi Larry,

    I am writing a piece for the Learning Forward Kansas bi-monthly enews on how Daniel Pink’s work on motivation can support educators meet the post-secondary needs of our students. I would like to cite a couple of your ideas and provide a link to your post. May I do this?


    January 21, 2013
    • Larry Fliegelman said:


      Of course you may. I would be interested in reading what you come up with. Once it is written, can you share a link to the article?

      January 22, 2013
  11. […] Drive the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. 2009. by Daniel Pink I finally finished Drive, by Daniel Pink. Since I had read so many reviews about the book, seen the video (below), and engag…  […]

    May 2, 2013
  12. […] 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.” (p 203) In this era of education reform focused on carrots and sticks (seems like mostly sticks right now), I wish more ‘edreformers’ […]

    June 8, 2013
  13. […] One of the trends in education now is to have essential questions or student learning objectives posted which serve as a student guide to stay big picture focused. Every activity in the classroom should point back to the essential question. I like this and wonder if parents can learn from them writing essential questions when deal with parenting issues. Scott and I have put Brooke on a 5 year plan (that’s how much longer she’s in our home) with overall objectives for each year specific activities to reinforce these objectives. We continually want to be big picture focused. In the classroom, I am continually framing daily activities within the big picture so my students understand the purpose. (On a side note, don’t give busy work if you’re a teacher).  […]

    October 7, 2013
  14. […] course, we teachers should be applying the above principles with our students, too. (Here’s a list of ways Pink’s lessons from Drive might apply to education compiled by Larry Fliegelman at the Connected Principals […]

    March 7, 2014
  15. Kyle said:

    Good compilation of the ideas covered by Dan Pink in Drive. Your added insights in the context of education were excellent!

    Nearly all the emerging jobs in the post-industrial digital economy require high levels of creativity, emotional intelligence and intrinsic motivation. We definitely need to rethink our schools from the ground up if we are going to prepare young people to be future leaders.

    May 28, 2015
    • Thank you.

      I am still amazed at how relevant this book is for my daily work. I find that I am referring to it frequently as my school and district are engaged in the work of rethinking how we reach each child.

      May 29, 2015
  16. justin said:

    I just started this last night and I’m really excited to delve deeper into it!

    March 27, 2017

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