Beyond Drive: 5 great books about Agile and Motivation

I recently found an interesting tweet from Maren Baermann about motivation.

That got me thinking about some great books about motivation for work and life in general.

1. Drive by Daniel Pink

Most people in the Agile community are familiar with the book Drive, or at least Pink’s “The puzzle of motivation” TED talk and the RSA animated version. Pink summarized the three factors that lead to higher motivation and better outcomes as Autonomy (our desire to be self-directed), Mastery (our desire to get better at stuff), and Purpose (our desire to make a difference in the world).

Pink’s one of those great authors who summarizes research really well in an intriguing way. But there’s a lot more to this field of research than Drive, as he would probably be the first to point out.

2. Self Determination Theory by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci
Deci and Ryan are really the research pioneers in this field that everyone is building upon. In their 1985 book Self Determination Theory, they summarize the key factors for motivation as competence, connection (or relatedness) and autonomy.

So, Pink talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose. His term mastery is very similar to what Deci and Ryan call competence. What Pink calls purpose is what Deci and Ryan would have called connection or relatedness, which is really about people experiencing a sense of belonging and attachment to other people. Translated to purpose that would be, how am I working with others to make a difference for people?

3. Primed to Perform by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor
While Drive is an idea book, Primed to Perform is a how-to book.

They summarize positive conditions a little bit differently. What Pink calls autonomy, they call play. What Pink calls purpose, they call purpose. And what Dan Pink calls mastery, they call potential. So they summarize it as three Ps: play, purpose and potential. Those are the positive factors.

They also summarize the research around what leads to demotivation. What are the negative factors? And those are emotional pressure, which looks like, “do this or else.” Then economic pressure, which is about attaching economic outcomes, either positive or negative, to anything that’s creative, which Pink talks quite a bit about in his book and in his Ted talk. The third negative factor is inertia, which looks like, “eh, nothing changes around here.”

Primed to Perform includes tips on how to create positive conditions if you’re a leader in an organization.

4. Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect by Matthew Lieberman
In Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, Lieberman discovers that our need to connect with other people is, in many ways, even more fundamental or more basic than our need for food or shelter.

He says when we’re not actively thinking about something, our brain rests by trying to make sense of social connections with other people. And he estimates that by the time we are 10 years old, our brain has spent 10,000 hours learning how to make sense of people in groups.

The social aspect matters, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Even an introvert needs to feel connected somehow, according to this research.

5. The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
I remember Pink tweeting a few years back saying, “The Progress Principle is the best business book I’ve read in the last decade,” or something like that. And I said, “Ooh, tell me more.”

Amabile and Kramer studied journal entries of about 250 employees at seven companies.

In the morning, the employees talked about their level of motivation going into work that day. At the end of the day, they again talked about their level of motivation. In the evening, they described what happened at work that day.

And so they could look at how motivation changed, did it go up or down, and what was going on that day? And “What were the things that led to high or higher motivation at the end of the day, compared to when people came in that morning?”

And what they found was there was one overwhelming, most-correlated factor. And that factor was, did I get something done today? And did I get something done today that mattered to somebody? The Progress Principle has a fantastic little kind of manager’s checklist in it. It says, “If you are managing people, if you are a leader or a manager or an executive at an organization, here’s a checklist to make sure that you are paying attention to what progress people are making.”

So one of the tie-ins to Agile that I love is that, if people are doing really small vertical thin slices of value, we get that sense of progress that we’re making progress today. We did a little bit, we got something all the way to done that mattered to somebody, really ties into this idea of the progress principle.


Here are the books again:

Stay connected out there — and get stuff done!

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Peter Green

Peter Green led a grass roots Agile transformation at Adobe from 2005 to 2015, starting with his own team, Adobe Audition. His influence includes the teams behind such software flagships as Photoshop, Acrobat, Flash, Dreamweaver and Premiere Pro, as well as dozens of internal IT and platform technology teams and groups like marketing and globalization. His work was a major factor enabling Adobe product teams to make critical business transition from perpetual desktop products to the subscription-based service, Creative Cloud. His hands-on Scrum and Agile training and coaching at all levels of the organization including executives, helped lay the groundwork to shift teams from two-year product cycles to frequent delivery of high-quality software and services. He is a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST), instructional designer, coach, facilitator, and a popular speaker at Tech, Agile, and Scrum conferences.

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