On Tom Sawyer

This week’s book learning is from Dan Pink’s book on ‘Drive’.

Tom had just been given the rather boring task of whitewashing his Aunt’s fence. As he began painting, his friend Ben came by, nibbling an apple.

(Language below has been edited for sake of simplicity)

‘Would you like to go swimming, Tom? Don’t you wish you could? And not just work on such a beautiful day’
‘What do you call work? Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?

That put things in new light in Ben’s eyes. ‘Say, will you let me whitewash?’ Ben asked

Tom immediately proceeded to play ‘hard to get’ – ‘No no. My aunt Polly is very particular about this fence. I reckon there’s only 1 boy in a 1000, or maybe 2000 who can do this’

‘Please Tom – I’ll give you my apple.’ Ben offered longing to paint the fence.

And thus, as the day progressed, many boys came and went. Tom ended up wealthy owning several marbles and other such goods while Aunt Polly’s fence was of course, whitewashed three times over!


Through this example, Dan Pink illustrates a simple point that has been around for decades. ‘Carrots and sticks‘ are not the answer to everything! Simple shifts in perspective and the way we position work can convert ‘work‘ to ‘fun‘ in no time. We are personally way more inspired to be ‘the best fence painter in the world’ versus earning $5 to paint a fence.

Here’s to tapping onto our intrinsic motivation this week, then!

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