3 Great Reads on Motivation and Drive

I love books. I always have. I was one of those geeky kids who used to read by torch light and moon light under the sheets when I was growing up - constantly dealing with warnings from my mother about straining my eyes and getting enough sleep.

Well I'm pleased to say that nothing really dire happened other than the usual decline of eyesight as I age but let's not go there or I'll be sensitive.

But what it did do was teach me about the wonderful world that you can discover in books.  I love fiction and some of my favourite authors include Isabelle Allende, Gabriel García Márquez and Australia's own Tim Winton. But there are certain times of the year (holidays and quiet times) when I simply schedule my own "University of Amanda Blesing" curriculum and read business books, or new ideas books.   Articles in online magazines are fine to a certain degree - but I always want more - so I get the book. ASAP.  And the advent of the Kindle has totally opened up my world to the modern business book. Why a Kindle?

  • I can download one or two a week relatively affordably and absolutely immediately, then get reading in my spare time - or in fact, in my scheduled reading time. 
  • I don't end up with an unmanageable library that I need to deal with at the end of the year.
  • Plus I can highlight and also search for key words.  This is AWESOME!  I recently remembered reading something about risk in a leadership book. All I had to do was hit the search button and heaps of references to risk were brought up - which I could scroll through until I found the right one.

But enough about me! Let's talk about you.  Or more relevantly for this article - three great books by male authors who inspired my year in 2015.   And yes, I do read male authors.

You will have read my previous articles about:

  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
  • The Confidence Code by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck.
  • Playing Big by Tara Mohr
  • Womenomics by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
  • Quiet by Susan Cain

If you missed them you can find out more here and here.

But these three books are all about motivation - what makes us work, what makes us tick and is it as logical as we might imagine?


Give and Take by Adam Grant
- why helping others drives our success

Named one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon, Apple, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal—as well as one of Oprah's riveting reads, Fortune's must-read business books, Harvard Business Review’s ideas that shaped management, and the Washington Post's books every leader should read. For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. It turns out that at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

My take?  My IP is around women and ambition. Women frequently find themselves in this space of giving - giving of time, energy, emotions and care. More women than men work in the heath sector, the education sector, the not for profit sector and human services. We raise families, we volunteer. We give.

It was great to read that this is not all bad news. That giving in and of itself can be rewarding and in fact in the right circumstances gives people more energy, drive and sense of purpose - which even contributes to increased health an longevity benefits. Reciprocity is a science and an art form. I loved reading the very practical case studies and examples from around the globe about people giving - and these people and communities were thriving. Collaboration, connection, sharing economies don't just survive - they thrive. People love to give. It even inspired a change in my own behaviour on LinkedIn - giving more endorsements, recommendations and acknowledgements more frequently, with no expectation of anything in return. 

In a nutshell - I loved this book. I frequently recommend it to clients who work in the consumer affairs space, the NFP and community sector.  Well worth a read. (By the way, Adam has recently released a new book called Originals. Already downloaded and queued on the Kindle - watch this space).

Drive - by Dan Pink
- the surprising truth about what motivates us

From Daniel H. Pink, the author of the bestselling A Whole New Mind, comes a paradigm-shattering look at what truly motivates us and how we can use that knowledge to work smarter and live better.

Most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, Daniel H. Pink says in, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, his provocative and persuasive new book. The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

My take? This is an easy to read book on motivation. Even better - if you want to go back and get a recap you can watch several talks on Youtube and even on TED - where you can be entertained by Dan as you learn - Dan is an amazing speaker. This is also great if you like to reinforce learning in different ways.

I'm interested in ambition; what drives us, what motivates andand keeps us turning up to do good work every day - even if we aren't always acknowledged, even if we don't love the environment and even when we don't get paid as well as we believe we should be!  And Dan goes a long way to explaining that some of our traditional notions of what motivates people are just plain wrong.  In fact we mostly got it all wrong!  And it seems counter intuitive but oh so right when you read the examples. 

If you manage or lead a team then here are the basic three elements you need to remember:

“Autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.

I think it's going to take a really long time before business prepared to let go of salary bands, bonuses and annual salary increases - but it's certainly worth thinking about.

The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely
- the unexpected benefits of defying logic at work and at home

In his earlier book Predictably Irrational Dan raised the question of whether or not we are as rational as we might imagine. He explained that when we make decisions we think we’re in control, making rational choices. But are we? Entertaining and surprising, Ariely unmasks the subtle but powerful tricks that our minds play on us.  The Upside of Irrationality looks at the benefits of us making irrational decisions. 

My take? Dan Ariely is a great story teller and a funny guy. I came across the concept of behavioural economics when working in the consumer affairs space and learned about The Nudge Unit out of the UK who were revolutionising the way government departments motivated people and used marketing principles to get people to follow rules, take responsibility for themselves or become more compliant with guidelines and recommendations provided by government.  This is some of the theory behind those notions and I was excited to learn more.

The descriptions of all the various experiments Dan A. carries out with university students are entertaining and illuminating.  This entire field of behaviour economics is fascinating, concerning and incredibly helpful all in one.

I particularly like the research where he tells the story of three student groups with term papers due. To summarise and cut an amusing and long story short - he creates scenarios in which students need to submit papers on time and get graded.  In a modern world where we value autonomy, independence and free thinking, you might imagine that autonomy and having a say over term paper deadlines might deliver considerable benefits. But the experiment demonstrated quite the reverse was true and that as humans we respond better to tighter and more strict deadlines in terms of compliance and ratings/marks.  While you won't need a spoiler alert warning from me (I'll let you read the book) - if you do decide to work with me on a longer term basis I use these principles to help my clients with accountability and submitting home work.

If you don't have time to read you can see and hear Dan A speak on TED and YouTube. You can even sign up to do his behavioural economics course on Coursera.  If you are in the business of motivating, influencing behaviour, or educating people, then this is an absolute must read.

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution

And happy reading everyone! Looking forward to your suggestions or comments.


Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months