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Pink's Three Motivators


Explanations > Needs > Pink's Three Motivators

Autonomy | Mastery | Purpose |  So what?


In 'Drive', Dan Pink identifies three deep motivators that can also be viewed as needs.


In much of our lives, and certainly at work, we are beholden to others who influence or direct our choices, and control the resources we use. This can be frustrating when we disagree with directions and struggle to complete seemingly impossible work.

Being directed by others grates on our need for a sense of control, especially when we feel we could do a better job of left to our own devices. Our sense of identity is also impacted when we feel we are doing the work of others rather than something where we can feel a sense of ownership and pride.

When we have autonomy, were have freedom to choose what we do and how we do it. We may also have all the time and resources we need. This is why we have hobbies in which we have full control.

Giving people greater autonomy at work, for example by only dictating what must be done (but not how it must be done) can be very motivating and lead to far greater productivity.


Having autonomy is good, though it can be stressful if you have limited skills. The next need is hence for mastery, to be good at what you do, to have the ability to use your freedom for good effect.

Mastery is not just about doing a good job, it is also about the pleasure of doing so. There is a deep satisfaction in a job well done, a sense of pride as you feel there is something of yourself in your work that others will admire and perhaps afford you greater status.

To become a master you need to be good at learning, with the humility to admit imperfection and seek the advice and views of others. Learning, though sometimes painful, can be fun too as nature rewards us in the opiate-driven buzz of realization.


And when you are allowed and have the skills, what then? You can do odd jobs and help out, but is that all you want in your life? When you get to the end and look back, is being good at what you do enough? For most of us it is not.

Having purpose is a higher need, like Maslow's self-actualization. It is about creating meaning for your life. It is about looking forward to achieving grand things as well as looking back on having made a real difference.

A sense of purpose helps us feel that we matter, that we have control over bigger things, that our identities are a part of something greater than ourselves. It answers the deepest question, 'Why?"

So what?

When trying to control others, remember that you may be affecting their need for autonomy. It is often better empower them or show how doing as you request will give them more autonomy.

Likewise beware of setting up a master-apprentice dynamic, where you are the master and they are the apprentice. This easily happens if you start telling them or judging them. This is why it is often better to ask their opinion and get them to say what is best.

If you can, shape their purpose. Make their lives meaningful in the things they do for you. Make what they do amazing and significant, rather than trivial and boring. This is one of the great secrets of leadership.

See also

The Need for Autonomy, The Need for a Sense of Control, The Need for Freedom, The Need for Meaning

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Riverhead Books


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