The positive psychology link to drive

How would you best describe your workplace behaviour?

  • Type A
  • Type B
  • Type X
  • Type I

What? Type X and Type I? Yes, it’s true…Type A and Type B behaviour is so passé! Instead, the behavior types du jour are Type X or Type I. X and I (stand for extrinsic and intrinsic, respectively)are terms used by Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, to describe motivational behaviour.  Learning more about these types can help you better understand what drives you (and your team) at work. It can influence how you approach your job and how you manage your direct reports.

Pink provides simple explanations of each type. Type X behaviour is driven largely by extrinsic desires and external rewards. For instance, one’s desire to work simply to make large amounts of money, deriving nothing but a large paycheck from a job that provides no satisfaction is an example.  On the other hand, Type I behaviour is “powered by our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world,” explains Pink. Fostering more of Type I behaviour in the workplace, he suggests, would help develop stronger organizations that achieve more.

A closer look at the definition reveals three elements identified through research as necessary to motivate employees involved in non-routine, conceptual work, led by right brain thinking. If you read our blog, you are most likely a non-routine worker, as opposed to what Pink refers to as an “algorithmic” worker, whose work can be reduced to a set of rules. Non-routine workers depend on three elements to feel truly motivated, according to Pink. These three elements are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Most people working in leadership roles enjoy success because of these three drives. Without autonomy, it is difficult to shine as a leader. Leaders pursue mastery through continued learning (i.e. pursuit of an advanced degree, on-the-job experience) and the opportunity to use their strengths on a daily basis at work. And our emotional connection to our work is often related to a sense of purpose, something larger than ourselves.

Pink’s book has a chapter dedicated to each of these elements. However, I am struck how two in particular, mastery and purpose, play a large role in how positive psychology relates to the workplace. Mastery could also described as flow, a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi two decades ago in his famous book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (see our blog). People experience flow when they are so completely absorbed in an activity there is no awareness of their surroundings. Flow is the perfect tension when skill meets challenge. Those are moments of mastery!

Sense of purpose is also a cornerstone of happiness. Martin Seligman (a founder of the study of positive psychology) uses the phrase, “the meaningful life” to describe one of three paths to happiness. The meaningful life, he states, is “using your signature strengths and virtues in service of something larger than you are.”  Pink echoes this idea, stating, “The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.”

Purpose, along with autonomy and mastery, speaks to organizational strength and achievement. How could you use this information in your work? While you may be aware of your own sense of each of these, have you asked those who report to you? (Dan Pink offers a 30-question free assessment at: )Find out what motivates them. Are they Type X or Type I? Does this influence how you manage them? Start the conversation! It benefits you, your team, and the organization.