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The Search for Flow; Thoughts on Daniel Pink’s “Drive”

If you’ve ever sat down to create anything, whether a painting, song or a personal essay, you know that half the battle is simply sitting down, pulling up a chair and digging into your work. That inner critic, who is ever the pessimist toward your particular art, is alive and primed to thwart your genius. Yet, even as we trudge through The Resistance and get to work, logging countless hours, what is it that motivates us to finish? For most of us, there is little to no monetary gain or promises of a growing audience. At best, we may turn a few heads with our latest mixed media piece or get five friends to actually read, in its entirety, our well-written, insightful blog post on the environmental hazards of coal ash. So, why go through all that trouble for such a seemingly mild reception? Because if all artists were driven to create through extrinsic motivators (money, fame, etc.) instead of the self-satisfaction that comes with creating something from nothing (intrinsic motivators), art wouldn’t be art at all. And the world would be quite boring.

Motivation is at the crux of Daniel Pink’s latest book, “Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. In it, he urges leaders/employers to abandon the old “carrot and a stick”, rewards-based motivational techniques of the old guard and instead implement components of what Pink calls “Motivation 3.0” – work centered around autonomy, mastery and purpose. In short, you and I both hate our ridiculously mundane day jobs because they don’t offer any of these three factors. We are told what to do; we do the mind-numbing work, grumble under our breath, collect a paycheck and go home. Real work, work that inspires and enlightens, encompasses all three, and that’s why we can sit for hours in front of a computer, pounding away at a short story and completely lose all sense of time. We do it because we love it.

Pink goes so far as to include a “Type I Toolkit” in the appendix for those of us seeking more autonomy, mastery and purpose in our work and personal lives. This section is filled with practical tips and exercises to get us on our way toward finding “flow” and doing fulfilling work.

I particularly dug Pink’s thoughts on mastery:

“The path to mastery – becoming ever better at something you care about – is not lined with daisies and spanned by a rainbow. If it were, more of us would make the trip. Mastery hurts. … in the end, mastery often involves working and working and showing little improvement, perhaps with a few moments of flow pulling you along, then making a little progress, and then working and working on that new, slightly higher plateau again. It’s grueling, to be sure. But that’s not the problem; that’s the solution.”

You can find “Drive” in the Psychology section of your local bookstore.