Drive: What Motivates People in 2019

DUnderstanding what motivates people in 2019 is a challenge that every business and organization must understand. The question of motivation and how you can motivate people is a difficult one to answer. Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us contextualizes the shift in how human motivation has evolved, where we are failing, and what motivates people in 2019.

The problem with how we motivate people now

Currently business, government, and other organizations focus on external rewards. Rewards can be if-then rewards so that if you do X activity you will receive Y reward. Conversely, if you do not do X activity you will receive Z punishment. In 2019 most organizations still, use the carrot and stick philosophy to motivate people, which is ineffective.

Financial glass - carrot on pole

An additional facet how we classically have viewed what motivates people is the focus on external rewards. This is usually a monetary award, a promotion, or maybe a free trip. While these external rewards are important, they do not address the intrinsic rewards of personal fulfillment. External rewards can be good short-term tactics to motivate people, but long-term intrinsic rewards are much more powerful.

What motivates people today?

The 3 key areas that Daniel Pink lays out in Drive of what motivates people are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The key to what motivates people in 2019 are optimizing for these areas.

Financial Glass - What motivates us in 2019 dandelion blowing in the wind


As human beings, we have the desire to be autonomous and self-directed. We desire the freedom to choose what we do when we do it, how we do it, and whom we do it with. Democracy as a governing structure has grown and spread over the past 300 years due to this very notion of individual freedom. 

Our current management structures tend to limit employees’ freedoms to control their work. Companies that offer greater autonomy on the tasks, time, team, and technique are outperforming their traditional counterparts. Pink uses the examples of Atlassianand the 20% time idea that Google has made famous. Engineers spend 20% of their time working on a project of their choosing. 

Finding ways to give employees more control over their work helps spur motivation. Autonomy doesn’t mean standards go away or timelines disappear. Those remain in place, simply enabling greater autonomy over the details and enabling more intrinsic motivation to do good work is the goal

Financial Glass - What motivates people in 2019 - Mastery


The second key to what motivates people is mastery. The autonomy discussed earlier encourages greater engagement as people now own their own methods of work. This engagement is the first step towards the second key to what motivates people, mastery. 

Think back to a time when you were really engaged or engrossed in an activity, you likely experienced a feeling of time passing quickly. You become engrossed in what you are doing that before you know it lots of time has passed. This is the idea of flow. Reaching flow states puts people on the road toward mastery. 

There are 3 laws of mastery you need to satisfy. First, mastery is a mindset that requires you to see your abilities as always improvable. Second, mastery is a pain in that it demands deliberate practice, grit, and hard work. Third, mastery is impossible to fully realize making it both frustrating and tempting.

Mastery motivates us through engaging in flow states that in and of themselves are rewarding. As the end state of mastery is never quite achievable, is difficult, and requires us to continually improve.

Financial Glass - what motivates people in 2019 - purpose


Finally, the last key to what motivates people in 2019 is a purpose. People inherently seek purpose to support a cause greater and more enduring than themselves. This can come in the form of supporting specific causes, seeking religious and spiritual fulfillment, and pursuing a legacy. 

The current rewards system of external motivators or purely profit goals doesn’t cut it in today’s society. What motivates people in 2019 is beyond the external factors which are often table stakes. Alignment on both profit and purpose-driven missions is extremely important and a key to motivating people. 

You can see this shift happening from companies such as TOMS shoes to larger corporations like Proctor and Gamble’s Gillette twisting its catchphrase to “the best a man can be” in support of changing what it means to be a man. Banks that focus on impact investing and index funds that track socially conscious sectors are the beginning of this alignment.

financial glass - motivational sign

Implementing what motivates people in 2019?

The impact of redesigning work around what motivates people today is critical. This change will create a more productive, engaged, and satisfied team. You will decrease inefficiencies and ultimately support intrinsic motivation that is lacking in the way work is designed today. 

If you are an established organization it will require discipline and explanation as you transition. A gradual progression may be the best way to transition. Ensure you are focusing on your company’s key performance indicators to see how they adapt and listen to your employees. It may seem daunting yet the results over time will speak for themselves.

If you are a startup and are a small agile team, then you can more easily make changes. By supporting what motivates people today you lay the foundation for supporting autonomy, mastery, and purpose. To build a world-class team you must have alignment on motivation.

Additional motivation and principal ideas

The Rise of Superman – the power of flow states

A Whole New Mind

Gamify – motivating through game mechanics

Growth Hacking Tools for Startups


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