One Sentence Summary:

  • Fun introductory read exploring the foundation of human motivation with numerous studies to shed light on the author's perspectives and provide you with a toolkit to design organizations

Below are notes I've taken while reading the book. This is not a comprehensive summary but thoughts and ideas I've found valuable. I recommend reading these notes after you've read the book first to compare our thoughts. I can't stop you if you don't want to so I guess you can use the below as an idea of what you may get out of the book yourself if you read it... though if it ain't clear it's cause you didn't listen to me. 

Raw Notes:


  • Personal Motivation

  • Organizational Design

  • Food for Thought

  • Lifestyle Design

  • Introspection


Personal Motivation

Dr. Edward Deci's study found that individual's who were given a reward for a task they didn't get a reward for before ended up spending less time doing the task. Indicative of the fact that when a monetary reward is attached to something people will only do a task up to the point the reward will be provided and no more. 

Only contingent rewards ("If-Then" rewards) had a negative effect on motivation due to forfeiture of autonomy as someone else giving a reward for a certain amount of performance resulted in loss of control over a personal situation per a study by Mark Lepper and David Greene. This would be reflective in companies that give performance pay. I believe setting out a set salary and having a company profit sharing that is transparent would be much more ideal. 

"Intrinsic motivation = Drive to do something because it is 1) interesting, 2) challenging, and 3) absorbing - is essential for high levels of creativity"

Britain found out people would not give as much blood if they paid instead of asking for donations. Extrinsic motivators were weaker than intrinsic. Humans have an inner altruistic component. Number reduced by 50% in same experiment done in Sweden. 

Introduction of monetary punishment for parents who came to pick up children late resulted in more parents coming late because now it was an externally driven transaction compared to an internally driven effort to be punctual. 

"Short-term price crowds out the long-term learning." Instead of short-term rewards, just set  really easy and achievable goals to build momentum of habit setting. Paying people to create a habit produces results in short term but it never lasts if incentives are removed. 

Deeper motivation elements = autonomy, mastery, purpose         

Type I (intrinsically-motivated) motivators are: freedom, challenge, purpose of the undertaking. Money and recognition do matter for Type I too. But once you reach fair and adequate pay, you can take the money off the table and Type I's can focus on the main motivators. For Type X (extrinsically motivated) the money IS the table - Chapter 3

"Type I behaviour emerges when people have autonomy over the four T's: their task, their time, their technique and their team." 

"Nothing is more important to my success than controlling my schedule." - Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert

Best predictor of success is "grit" = the perseverance and passion for long-term goals

"Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don't feel like doing them." - Julius Erving , Basketball Hall of Fame. -> It is as if he pulled the lines straight out of Steven Pressfield's book


Organizational Design

"Hire good people, and leave them alone." - William McKnight, CEO of 3M

Mayo clinic would let doctors spend 1 day a week to focus on a part of their job of their choosing based on what was most meaningful for them and that reduced their burnout and emotional/physical exhaustian rate. -> Chapter 6

"What if we flipped our thinking - and designed our workplace policies for the 85% rather than the 15%?" -> 100%. Most companies have policies and best practices and rules all tailored to guide or stop the bottom performers but that mindset of bringing the organization's speed down to the bottom performers will only slow down the entire train. The organization should be catered to the top performers to enable them and assume good faith in all employees instead of distrust. A document filled with policies shows nothing but distrust. 

Assume people want to do good work. Because then you will treat them like they want to do good work. Then you will realize you should let them focus on doing the work itself rather than the time it takes them to do the work. This should probably result in abolishing billable hours in professional services firms as a measure of employee performance. - Chapter 4

"In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive - and autonomy can be the antidote." - Tom Kelley, IDEO General Manager

Howard Hughes Medical Institute model: 1) Tolerate early failure, 2) reward long-term success, 3) give great freedom to experiment

"Management isn't the solution; it's the problem." -> Lessen the gap between the leaders and employees. Decentralize. - Chapter 4

To allow for heuristic employees to be creative an environment where they are not rushed with financial incentives is required. I think this is why artists who make their craft a profession start disliking it because they feel stress from the tie of financial reward and performance. Sam Glucksberg's candle test resulted in individuals getting more narrow focused and less creative when incentives were provided for more money for faster speed. 

"Rewards and punishments can give rise to cheating, addiction, and dangerously myopic thinking."

"Best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table." 


Food for Thought

Economics is not the study of money. It's the study of behaviour

"In a curious way, age is simpler than youth, for it has so many fewer options." - Stanley Kunitz, U.S poet laureate

"What you decide not to do is probably more important than what you decide to do." - Tom Peters, management guru


Lifestyle Design

Stefan Sagmeister, designer, Takes a year off every 7 years. He does it to give his body and mind a rest and think of new ideas and expand his creativity. He often says the ideas he develops in the 1 year off generate income for his next 7 years. This takes lot's of saving and planning on his part to allow for this. But this seems to be key. Taking mini-retirements consistently to recharge your mind and body. Also, plan for it in advance so you are forced to live that life that you dream of. 

"There is no reason to believe any longer that only irrelevant 'play' can be enjoyed, while the serious business of life must be borne as a burdensome cross. Once we realize that the boundaries between work and play are artificial, we can take matters in hand and begin the difficult task of making life more livable." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi



"Left to their own devices, Csikzentmihalyi says, children seek out flow with the inevitability of a natural law. So should we all." -> This is why it is valuable to reflect to your childhood for pattern analysis on what you loved to do. -> Chapter 5