Purpose And Motivation: Some Thoughts From Daniel Pink

AJWs TaproomA few years back, author and thinker Daniel Pink made quite a splash with his bestselling book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, in which he challenged conventional wisdom in a provocative argument suggesting that the future may not be all about productivity and results but rather process and meaning. Pink followed up A Whole New Mind with an equally edgy book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, in which he looked at human motivation and its impact on individual success and satisfaction.

The two most compelling aspects of Pink’s work are his reflections on purpose and motivation and his assertion that taking a contrarian viewpoint may become the norm in the 21st century. Understanding that purpose and motivation are inextricably linked and also tied to aspects of life we might not necessarily assume to be true make Pink’s thinking simultaneously counterintuitive and constructive.

With respect to purpose, Pink’s extensive research suggests that there are aspects of life which provide meaning that have little to nothing to do with extrinsic rewards. While certainly the need for resources and a livelihood are essential to human survival, Pink notes that, in fact, “man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.” Furthermore, Pink notes that the modern technological era has spawned a “fourth great awakening” in which material well-being, while important, is less of a factor in human decision making than the simple, more primal, desire for purpose and meaning.

In Drive, Pink asserts that motivation, at its core, comes from within. Citing the three elements of true motivation–autonomy, mastery, and purpose–Pink implores us to accept that our internal desires are far more significant indicators of what drives us than external gratification. And further, that a fulfilling life is one in which intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are not at odds with one another.

As a long-distance runner, Pink’s ideas resonate with me deeply. Certainly, there are external factors that motivate me–competition, physical well-being, the tacit approval of my peers–but the true essence of my love of running comes from what it gives me on the inside, a true sense of satisfaction and meaning that is entirely my own and well beyond the day-to-day grind of life.

It may strike some as odd, but I often view a single run as an apt metaphor for life. Typically starting off my doorstep, I am a bit creaky and sore. As I begin to find a rhythm, my energy increases and I get into a bit of a flow. By the time I hit full stride it is like I am floating. In that moment of peace, the reward is all on the inside. Sure, the training benefit is there but for me, the motivation to find that feeling far outweighs anything the outside world will see or even care about. And that, to me, is the great purposeful gift of this running life.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Blue Mountain Brewery SpookyWith Halloween this weekend, this week’s Beer of the Week has to be a pumpkin. Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, Virginia makes a great one called Spooky. More balanced than your typical pumpkin, Spooky goes well with food and the holiday season. Enjoy!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Where does your drive come from in your professional life? External goals set by the company you work for or a supervisor-type person? A drive to please the people around you? An intrinsic desire to accomplish a goal? Have you noticed your motivation evolve as elements of your professional life change, like who you work with or your level of responsibility?
  • How about in your running? What are the origins of your motivation to run, something inside of you or external variables? Some of both? How do you notice your motivation changing from season to season, in different parts of your training cycles, or as you age?