Many people from the web industry have read and loved the recent classic Drive by Daniel Pink (or at least watched the fun and inventive video below). Not as many people, however, are familiar with exactly how to put the lessons from the book into practice within their enterprise. Fear not traveller; My aim in this article is to help provide a simple model where you can transfer a crucial piece of abstract understanding from Drive into concrete action in your daily work life.

The Breakdown

One of the core components in Drive is a motivational operating system Pink refers to as "Motivation 3.0". Motivation 3.0 is made up of 3 components. Mastery, Purpose and Autonomy. In my experience, the concepts of "Mastery" and "Purpose" are not too mysterious and can be acted upon pretty easily without too much confusion.

Autonomy, however, can be another story. Per Pink, creative knowledge workers whose work is more heuristic than algorithm find autonomy more motivating than tangible reward. Figuring out how to attach to, approach and execute against this concept has been a challenge for leaders at all different levels of the enterprise.

Autonomy can be tricky for leaders, because:

  • Autonomy is very easy to see as an all or nothing concept; "You are either autonomous and self directed or you are not"
  • Leaders sometimes struggle to see their own role and value proposition once a team is autonomous and self directed; "If I delegate that stuff, what is my job?"

The assumptions buried in the concerns related above are the root of the problem. First, delivering autonomy through delegation does not limit the value proposition of leaders, it unlocks it by allowing the leader to reflect on how to create the optimal conditions that allow teams to be successful. Second, autonomy is not an all or nothing thing. Autonomy can be broken down in a very discrete and easy to apply model that has three parts; how, what and why.

Autonomy of the How

For individual contributors at the junior levels in your organization autonomy can be given in the form of "how". Managers and leaders can deliver the "why" and the "what" and leave the individual team members to work out the "how".