Recent Reads: Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Daniel Pink



Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink (author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others). In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that 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.

Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose-and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action in a unique book that will change how we think and transform how we live.

This quick read was lent to me by someone I work with – actually someone I supervise.  (I’m just going to assume that she lent it to me because she knew that I love to read, am a life-long-learner, and that we share a mutual interest in psychology… and not that she thinks I’m a crap boss and need advice on how to motivate my team.)

For some reason, I didn’t quite latch on to Dan Pink’s writing style, but he presents a lot of valid points to reframe how we traditionally think about motivating others, which is basically systems rewards and punishments.  He challenges while such simple conditioning might work to influence routine tasks, it is actually a damaging perspective when it comes to finding motivation to do anything that requires complex thought, difficulty, or creativity.  We’re missing out on a huge component: intrinsic motivation.  Doing something for the inherent satisfaction of doing the activity itself.  Intrinsic motivation is running a marathon to explore the reaches of our physical form.  It’s creating art to express complex perspectives.  It’s volunteering time, because it serves a purpose greater than ourselves.

And yep, I am on board.  Lucky me, Dan wraps up his book with a “toolkit” of how to apply the psychology of intrinsic motivation to the real world – in personal life, at work, with kids.  So if you don’t want to read the whole thing, you can just jump straight to the back and quickly figure out “so how do I make this work for me?”  (Or, “so how do I not be a crap boss and better motivate my team.”)



Recent Reads: Weapons of Math Destruction

Weapons of Math Destruction

Cathy O’Neil

Nonfiction | Social Justice


A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life — and threaten to rip apart our social fabric

We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated.

But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.” Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.

Continue reading/purchase on Amazon

Weapons of Math Destruction turned out to be one of those books that will stick with me for a long time… shifting my lens on the world, questioning my Google search decisions, making me even more leery of click-bait articles and ads, forcing awareness of how my online behaviors subtly shape the social opportunities of those that are “like me,” contrasting with those that are not.

I read this book for the “social justice” book club I joined a few months back.  We’ve been reading a blend of genres, all somehow tied to a social justice theme (some more loosely than others).  Weapons of Math Destruction was selected by the lone biostatistician in the group.  Very fitting.  I felt somewhat anxious to start, considering the focus on “big data” was something out of my comfortable wheelhouse of expertise (or even remote knowledge).  I was nervous it’d be over my head, dry, and a chore to page through.

While it was absolutely ripe with new information, it was laid out so eloquently and with such conviction that this 218-page persuasive essay turned into an engrossing page-turner.  I read only a chapter at a time to keep my mind in the game, but it took me a brief week to get through it all.

I found myself gasping outloud, furious with new enlightenment on how algorithms have widened the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”  I felt like I was back in my undergrad sociology classes, just rife with anger and frustration with the powers outside of my control.  I kept on bringing this book up in conversation the moment I saw any sort of connection to the content.  (“Oh, you went to college?  Well let me tell you how big data has completely screwed full populations out of equal education and is forcing them into lives of joblessness, loan defaults, and a cruel cycle of despair!”  ….what, too much?)

Early on in the book, Cathy O’Neil describes her definition of “Weapons of Math Destruction” (or WMDs).  They are mathematical models and algorithms that (as most mathematical models) use proxies to stand in for qualitative information (such as a person’s zip code or language to stand in for their potential to pay back a loan or handle a job.) Now, mathematical models are not inherently evil.  Look at baseball statistics.  Totally legit. The difference is that WMDs are discriminatory, lacks any feedback loop, is opaque to the impacted person, and is scalable… it grows to hit mass populations.

I’ve tried summarizing one of her arguments in a short and digestible format, but it honestly won’t do it justice here. Just pick up the book – pick up one chapter – and read through her insights.  She’ll make you question your assumptions, and force you to look at the injustices woven through our systems.

Go get mad.

Accolades include…

  • The Guardian, Best Books of 2016
  • Boston Globe, Best Books of 2016, Non-Fiction
  • New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2016 (Non-Fiction)
  • New York Times, Best Seller
  • Long listed for the National Book Award
  • Goodreads reviews available here.

Recent Reads: Strength In What Remains

 Strength in What Remains

Tracy Kidder

Non-Fiction | Biography

strength in what remains

A young man arrives in the big city with two hundred dollars in his pocket, no English at all, and memories of horror so fresh that he sometimes confuses past and present.  When Deo first told me about his beginning in New York, I had a simple thought: “I would not have survived.”  And then, two years later, he enrolls in an Ivy League university.  How did this happen?  Where did he find the strength, and how had he won the beneficence of strangers?  How had it felt to be him?


A friend lent this book to me, and I could absolutely see why she loved it.  She’s one of my college friends, who went on to become a lawyer, defending immigrant youth on the brink of deportation.  She’s insanely intelligent and hard-working, possesses a level of integrity that few achieve, and fights tooth and nail for social justice.  So it’s evident why Deo’s refugee story of him escaping genocide and successfully rebuilding his life in the US would strike a cord with my friend.  His story is her life’s work.

I wanted to love this book, but I had a hard time connecting with it.  Kidder’s style was journalistic, so lacked some of the more emotional writing that I’m drawn to.  I wanted to know more about Deo’s thoughts and feelings, rather than just the facts of his refugee experience.

That said, Deo’s story, in and of itself, is both horrific and inspiring.  “Strength In What Remains” gave a voice to those who suffered through the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi, and gave light to the struggles refugees face to only survive.  And the book itself did get some great reviews from those that are actually qualified to give their literary opinions.  The writing style just wasn’t for me.

Worth a read?  Sure.  Recommended for those that like a journalistic writing style, are looking for a cerebral read, like to find inspiration in others’ success, or want to know more about the Rwandan/Burundian genocides.