Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Summary: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose & Johnny Bunko

Daniel Pink has pretty much won me over as a card carrying fan with all his talk about how we right-brained folks are going to rule the world. I’ve just finished reading his latest book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and thought of writing a summary of the Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose model for future reference. But then, Pink’s talks on TED and RCA pretty much take care of that. So I’ll focus here on some of the little details that struck a chord with me.

In the section on Mastery, Pink talks about what he calls ‘the oxygen of the soul’- flow, that deep sense of engagement in a certain activity. In the early 70s, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted a study where he asked participants to list down all the activities they do, not because they have to for some particular reason but, simply because they enjoy them. The things that lead to flow. And then he asked them to stop doing those things. Participants soon reported “an increased sluggishness about their behaviour” followed by headaches and difficulty concentrating. Some felt sleepy while others could not sleep at all. The study was stopped after just two days because it would have been dangerous to continue.

Csikszentmihalyi also found that people are much more likely to reach a state of flow in work than in leisure. The implication being that if a person’s work does not offer opportunities to do the things he enjoys, if he is deprived of flow, the consequences can be devastating. On the positive side, work that is enjoyable for its own sake can enrich a person’s life and lead to a sense of wellbeing. Such flow giving work is characterized by clear goals, immediate feedback and most importantly, the right level of challenge – not boringly easy, not frustratingly difficult. This kind of work is intrinsically motivating because flow leads to mastery.

This resonates with Pink’s career advice, to choose a job for fundamental reasons rather than for instrumental reasons. Fundamental reasons are those that are related to intrinsic motivation, to the desire for Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose. Does it give you the right level of autonomy that you feel comfortable with? Does it provide the right level of challenge - not boringly easy, not frustratingly difficult? Does it give you a sense of purpose – something larger than yourself or the organization? Instrumental reasons are those that are relate to extrinsic motivators. Does the job, for example, position you for a better opportunity at some later point? To be successful at work, it is necessary to choose a job or role for fundamental reasons and not for instrumental reasons.

And that brings us to Pink’s graphic novel called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need, which I haven’t read yet. But from what I could gather from reviews, the key themes are:
1. There is no plan – It doesn’t help to plan your career based on instrumental reasons because that is bound to lead to mediocrity and discontent. Instead, when you do what you enjoy and feel passionate about, the resulting flow leads to mastery and achievement.
2. Think strengths, not weaknesses – Play to your strengths.
3. It's not about you – Don’t take things too personally.
4. Persistence trumps talent – It’s all about practice and hard work. Talent alone is never enough.
5. Make excellent mistakes – Something along the lines of fail early, fail often.
6. Leave an imprint – Impact!

The common thread throughout all this and what resonates most with me is how absolutely important it is to career sucess to seek out a role that lets you do what you enjoy and feel passionate about.