Understanding Drive

This is a citizen contribution by Benny Pettersson. 



Your responsibility as a manager is to give your team goals and purpose for their daily work regardless what you see, understand, or get direction on.

Protect them from vague, obscured, disparate goals and directives and focus your energy on providing them with clarity, goals, purpose and intended effects to reach.Benny Pettersson

So, why does Cortex City work?

A bunch of volunteers, doing a lot of stuff on their free time … for nothing?

Daniel Pink has revealed the secret facts behind drive, and what motivates people. It is quite simple, but extremely powerful, proven by a lot of open source projects and maybe also Cortex City itself. We will see.

So, what drives people to contribute in Cortex City? It’s not because someone pays anyone here a big bag of money (I guess), it’s not because someone is dictating or telling us to do it, and it’s not because someone says our efforts are the right ones.

Daniel summarizes the secrets to motivation and drive in three words:

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Let me explain how I interpret them and some of the learning I’ve experienced that supports this.


Autonomy is when you or your team can decide how to do something or even what to do – for yourself. You select to write code or articles for Cortex and can decide what and how. No one else dictates that. This is powerful.

I wrote this article. The Mayor didn’t tell me, did not even ask me to do it. Another excellent example of this is our famous Flex-time. You can come and go whenever you want (almost) as long as you do your work. A simple but extremely powerful way of giving each one of us a little bit flexibility and possibility to control our own time, daily life and the feeling of control of our own life – autonomy.

If you are allowed to decide for yourself or within the team how you should do something then of course your awareness and level of responsibility and accountability will skyrocket. If you take that away for a team, you will soon see a team also checking out and not feel they are accountable since someone else made the call, not them.



This is when you can develop your code, finalize your article or app so YOU are proud or pleased with it. No one else will tell you when to release, when the code is good or nice enough or that the app should be released tomorrow.

You decide when you are proud enough, pleased enough, tested enough, YOU think it is good enough to YOUR standards (or the team’s)!

If you do this you will also get a team that will take responsibility for the quality as well producing something better than before.



The last, but not least –and actually the most important of the factors in my book (in capital letters) — is PURPOSE. What that tells us is – “I know why I am here and what I contribute with (as an individual or as a team)” and gives meaning to what you do. This is very powerful and essential to get motivation and drive, personally or in a team.

It’s probably the most important tool for any manager or leader to enable motivation (as we all know, you cannot as a leader motivate people directly), that is make it possible for anyone to become motivated by understanding how they contribute.

Why does Spotify seem to have all their employees so motivated? Because they have one purpose in life, so well put in front of them, daily, focused, repeated and without any divergence from the path so far.

It seems that they are repeatedly coming back to that if they are astray, repeat it for all and everyone, and make sure the message is clear in their marketing and messaging everywhere. It seems to be very powerful and working for them.

Every time I listen or read to anyone from or around Spotify I find myself thinking “Hey I also want to work there (for free)!”
[Editor’s note: No problem, but first you must work for free here in Cortex City :-)]



But if it so simple…why do we fail?

From a leadership perspective, were do we fail most often? I say on all three of them. Luckily, we have agile methodologies and tools like SCRUM.

Scrum focuses on setting small goals, for each short period, connecting those goals to business needs or customer problems (purpose). Scrum also focuses on the team judging and committing themselves to how much they can do each sprint (autonomy), and the team works out the best way to reach the goal, and how to reach the expected quality the team sets as standard for themselves (Mastery and Autonomy).

Excellent, but why do we still fail from time to time…?

If we as managers could let go, just make sure these values are protected and truly lived by, not only in the teams but also throughout the organization, you will get awesome teams. In those teams you’ll find highly motivated people, and I kid you not – awesome results.

And on the other hand – I have so many times seen this shot down.

Either by the business case just dictating a mission impossible (often delivery dates, or just too much and with uncommitted teams), no proper goals or understood effects we are supposed to deliver/implement or by micromanagement on what and how to do things. And then we struggle with demotivated people, with less drive and of course less possibility to succeed with any of our goals.

If I should suggest anything from this to any leader or manager … focus on the Purpose. Make that super clear; what is the effect we are after, why are we here, how can I contribute?

If you get this across, the onboarding of people will be so much easier. The team will see how they can contribute to this goal and purpose. Even as a manager I can find myself without proper understanding, clear or communicated goals, or purpose.

But how will you lead, motivate and tell your teams what the purpose or goals are if you do not see them yourself? I say find them, or create them.

Your purpose and responsibility as a manager is to give your team goals and purpose for their daily work regardless what you see, understand, or get direction on. Protect them from vague, obscured, disparate goals and directives and focus your energy on providing them with clarity, goals, purpose and intended effects to reach.

Back to the original question.. why are we doing this on our spare time, for free? What’s your driver? Did we just prove Daniel Pink right, or shoot his theories down for the sake of us just being really horny for money or fame?

Your humble citizen,
Benny Pettersson



Drive, by Daniel H. Pink (ISBN: 1594484805)

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5 comments on “Understanding Drive
  1. Benny Pettersson says:

    Thanks for reading Adam and Stefan and good questions/input. I’ll just contribute with some personal experience.

    1. Usually if the team is in this state, what I have experienced, the main problem has been lack of purpose/goals or understanding how or what their contribution is. So I should say, start from that end and build up the purpose/goal/why the team and the individuals are there. If they feel “I see/know that someone actually wants, uses, needs what I/we are working on” that will be one big step towards feeling more motivated and engaged for the work they are doing. Autonomy and Mastery would not happen by itself even if we have a good understanding purpose (but it will help) or goal. So Mastery and Autonomy you will need to work on as well. That’s why I like Scrum. It will actually be a tool for the team and the Product owner to touch all three of these and what I’ve seen also greatly increased engagement, motivation and drive quite fast.
    Some bigger changes or gaps around the purpose for a team may throw them off the engagement/drive loop even if using scrum though (for example when a product takes a big turn in the portfolio from investment to maintenance mode or something) but then I belive the organization and leadership around the team is really needed to facilitate, help out in this change process (the Product owner ‘itself’ will not be sufficient to create the needed purpose/goal probably). I usually also do individual talks to understand each team members personal drivers to see how well the individials match for example a new direction/purpose of the team. Sometimes not every one will have the best fit between their personal drives and the new purpose of the team and then we might consider change the team composition if possible. Best solution is of course to have aligned directions between individuals and the team goal.
    2. When I’ve seen big gaps between teams, management, product management it is usually due to big communication or expectation gaps, or not talking to each other at all. One change I did was to setup a weekly meetings (stand up, open meetings in front of a white board with burn downs in the middle of the corridor) and forced the managers and the team reps and product management to the same board to review burn down, sprint goals, release goals,and make sure any mismatch in expectation pop’ed up so we could handle it fairly quickly and to ensure we were aligned and stayed aligned. Hope this was in the direction of your questions.


  2. adamchap says:


    Great article – totally agree with this ‘pyramid’ structure. And pyramids are the strongest shapes.

    Here’s my follow-up question to it all. How do we cope in these situations:
    1. When the team is not interested in autonomy, mastery or purpose… A disillusioned, disheveled team. Usually inherited from someone else. Just focus on the purpose? Will that deliver the autonomy and mastery also? In which case, are they secondary values?
    2. How do we cope with an organisation that is shooting down management’s desire to do better – the “C Suite malaise” or indeed are not treating us with the same ethos and kindness? Some of this comes down, I believe, to us being a group of self-starters who are truly committed to the people around us.

    • Stefan Stefan says:

      My view of autonomy, mastery and purpose is actually that the priority between these are important, I also prefer to have them in the order I defined – hence autonomy rules them all…;-) A team can of course be dysfunctional for many different reasons. A team in your scenario Adam is gravely abused as I see it and then it is about guiding the team and providing leadership focusing on autonomy – not only on purpose. As Benny writes as a manager it is possible to create purpose (or an illusion of purpose – perception is more important). Some teams may buy in on that, real autonomous teams won’t. Autonomy creates space for creativity and room for building mastery and in-depth skills. When you have an autonomous team they will create their purpose and execute that with mastery. Giving the team guiding thru purpose is “old style management” in my view. It is the patriarchal way of leading people. One of the most successful in history – but this has a tendency of slipping easily to the far side where leaders are managers that team members are “afraid of”. This works well for non-cognitive work but not when you want to nurture creativity and boost mastery. Teams don’t spend extra working hours for the purpose, they don’t commit themselves and their time for purpose… You can force team members for a purpose but that is not sustainable for the team (or as a manager) The team invest themselves because they believe in the team and that the team (which is actually true for great teams) can create its own future.

      1. You create autonomy thru trust by listening and talking to team members. In my book there are no individuals lacking purpose, mastery and autonomy. But some teams (few) can spiral that way. As a leader you need to carefully analyze why the team behaves like that and either infuse the team (new team members typically changes the team and the team needs to reorganize) to boost the team so they see themselves that they create their own future. Second option is to defuse the team – this means removing members or reallocating them. This far more negative to the team and should be seen as a second option – if used as a way of making a dysfunctional team functional. Note: there are of course many other reasons for adding and removing members to a team – but the essence is that it changes the team in its entirety. Third option is dissolving the team. All of them work in practise, I have tested them all – in different ways.
      2. An organization trying to shoot down what management think is the way forward is an organisation in disbelief and without trust. Creating belief and trust is another chapter in its own but this is mainly about openness in communication and clarity in decisions – may those be good or bad.

      • adamchap says:

        Thanks Stefan – some great food for thought there. Both scenarios were true for me in a previous company and I had to fight hard to bring some unity in the team – which was then shot down by senior management 🙂

        I think one of the main things I read ‘in between the lines’ of your reply was this: “Give the team it’s own life and step back”. If as a leader we can give, or encourage the team (to have) it’s own goals, it’s own dynamics and it’s own ‘life’ then it becomes essentially self-sustaining, needing only further encouragement and direction setting from it’s leader, according to the overall goals of the organisation.

        • Stefan Qelthin Stefan Qelthin says:

          Precisely Adam. But stepping “down” as a manager requires trust in the team or guts. As the team is dysfunctional the latter is the most important. Many managers then think they lose control – which is a correct observation and The only way for The team to get autonomous. ..☺A paradox that starts with the manager daring to let go…

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