The one-sentence summary

We are driven by autonomy, mastery and purpose – the desire to direct our own lives, get better at something that matters, and be part of something bigger.

Can’t be bothered to read it? Listen to the 5-minute summary.


  • Using carrots and sticks to motivate people doesn’t work. We need to concentrate on autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system (carrot and stick) doesn’t work and often does harm
  • Autonomy is the desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery is the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Baseline rewards (salary, contract and a few perks) have to be adequate. Beyond that, motivation comes from autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • Type X behaviour is based on extrinsic desires such as external rewards
  • Type I behaviour is interested in intrinsic rewards – the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself (so long as baseline rewards are adequate)
  • ‘If-then’ rewards usually do more harm than good for creative, conceptual tasks (“If you do this, you’ll get that.”)
  • ‘Now that’ rewards are offered after a task has been completed (“Now that you’ve done such a great job, let’s acknowledge the achievement”), and come as a surprise. These are more effective


  • Low-profit limited liability corporations (L3Cs) are the new breed. They operate like a for-profit business and generate a modest profit, but their primary aim is to offer social benefits
  • FedEx days (so-called because they have to deliver something overnight) allow employees to tackle any problem they want, and are hugely productive
  • People like Goldilocks tasks best – not easy nor too hard. This is where people get ‘in the flow’ and do their best work
  • The Sawyer Effect (inspired by the Mark Twain story in which Tom persuades his friends to pay to whitewash a fence) highlights two crucial effects:

1) Offering rewards can turn play into work (negative)

2) Focusing on mastery can turn work into play (positive)

  • A ROWE is a Results-Only Work Environment, where employees don’t have schedules. They don’t have to be in the office at any particular time. They just have to get their work done.


  • Nothing. It’s to the point and well summarised so you can get straight to it.