Monthly Archives: June 2010

Dan Pink: Panther

I had a great opportunity to get one hour lecture from Dan Pink. I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture, and want to congratulate neustar for organizing  this, and all the other innovation series events. What an amazing motivational speak  on his latest book: Drive. He surely practices what he preaches and showed some passion.

Dan started with the Candle experiment, showing how monetary incentive may indeed narrow the focus and hence achieve better results for some simple missions but fails on tougher ones (such as avoiding functional fixingness of the box in the candles problem demanding some creativity and… in-to-the-box thinking). This was further explored in an MIT students series of tasks, where money helped on the physical or mechanical tasks but failed to deliver on any “rudimentary cognitive” tasks. Dan argues “if-then” rewards are ill suited for creative tasks.

Dan then referred to Israel childcare fees for parents that come late, and showed again how it fails to achieve the desire results: removing the guilt and making being late an economical transaction that some parents had bargained for, and even having some damaging long term effects by creating a new behavior patterns (those being late, maintained this behavior after shedding those guilt feelings).

Simply controlling humans with “button alike” incentives seems not to always work – even if traditional wisdom is that it should. Surely some parts of our drive are biological, and based on punishments and rewards. However Dan offered three additional layers he demonstrated as highly motivational – he called them intrinsic motivators (to replace the extrinsic ones):

  • Autonomy – In time, tasks given, technique and team selection
  • Mastery – We naturally want to get better at things
  • Purpose – We achieve much more when we have associated meaning to the results

Dan followed with some concrete evidence. Some of the samples are well known (Google 20% do-whatever-you-want-we-keep-IP) but some were illuminating (call center without call recording, timing and monitoring becoming one of the most efficient ones…). Very good challenge to management “wish to control” and “fear of losing it” while strangling innovation in the process.

10 years ago, a well funded and incentivized encyclopedia (Encarta by Microsoft), got professional experts and managers, and pays them to write an online expert entries. On the other side, wikipedia was done for fun, without any monetary rewards. No (sober) economist could predict which of those would prevail…

Dan addressed another interesting related point: wouldn’t we do nothing if not “managed” – depicting the lazy and inept devil within us? Well he argued we are active and engaged (like any 2 years would demonstrate) so adopting an autonomic environment, with clear purpose guidelines would nurture our habits to become better to work for ourselves (and that management).

Dan believed management in its “full control” manifestation is a legacy 18th century technology we invented to enforce others doing what we want, which is nowadays obsolete.

Dan also objected only monetary incentives – they may be useful as a form of recognition, but not as sole motivation tool.

I also liked his sports/arts analogy for feedbacks – where annual (or bi-annual) feedbacks for a professional seems ridiculous, and semi automatic text is often given instead of a reoccurring personal feedback  and personal.

PS #1

I have special interest in his views, as they seem to repeat findings we had previously forming an Innovation Program. It was based it on 4 pillars manifested in tools and procedures for – ideation and knowledge creation, idea collaboration and sharing, immediate feedbacks, and rewards and recognition. We have found similar things – people wanted more autonomy to deliver their ideas, and we did experience the challanges of losing control and faced some natural reluctancy to move forward even for a moderate 8% do-something-new (one short afternoon a week) for a subset of the groups.

PS #2

Dan immediately caught my ear when he argues that people want to contribute in something bigger than themselves, as I use the following in my CV for ages now: “I seek to share my technological leadership within a superb team, reaching broader realms than my own humble shoulders can carry, or the head upon them can dream of.”

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People or Poles?

In pursue of advertisement space, it seems that people are not overlooked. The human body is a perfectly ok “space” for banners, logos and brands. This is so common, that it is rarely challenged: why do we put up with this?

It starts with simple cases: people working for a corporate, getting a fancy T-shirts to spread their brand. If they are stunning blondes, and the logo is on one (or two sides) of the front upper shirt – no complaints are heard.

But there are a couple of things that interest me:

  • Why some of us pay much more to have a shirt with a certain sign? Not only they act as billboards, but they actually pay for it rather than being paid? Yes, I understand the “brand power”, the wish to belong, to express certain status symbols (which equal power or strength for some of us), but still can’t figure out why why people want to be wooden poles – Pinocchio should have teach them otherwise

  • Even more puzzling are supreme athletes, wearing virtually more logos than cloth space permits (so much that there are rules governing this in Tennis and other sports). A typical tennis player, golf pro or F1 driver (to name few individual sports were this seems ever so popular) is “worth” a lot of marketing value. Not only is he “famous” and “celeb”, copied and aspired by others – he also appears in various TV, newspapers and other media across the world. Surely brands pay those guys (unlike above). But what is bothering me is why a multi-millionaire sports guy, is so freely giving away his freedom of choice to select his cloth, and for no better thing that money he already has more than he needs?

    In some occasions, even in individual sports, the “sponsors” that invest heavily (e.g. a F1 back-end team and costs are huge) want a little bit of rewards to justify their investments. Those sports would not exist without massive amounts, and the athlete himself cannot back up the needed infrastructure. But in many cases, the athlete does not really need anything from those sponsors (free tennis balls and new rackets even after every 3 shots is still affordable to most Top-10 Tennis players).

    So I guess it must be my favourite world-go-round powers: greed, and inertia (e.g. doing tomorrow what you did yesterday automatically).

    While inertia is comforting as it sometimes gives impression of stability, I cannot say the same on the former. It seems to me greed is the most damaging disease of the 21 CN. I can only see it leading to more horrors (a-la Enron). In the name of “free market” people give up their basic rights: what to wear, which equipment to use (some creative in demand athletes have multiple contracts with multiple brands and in exchange they give some of their freedoms, garments, or equipment exclusively), and  what to do (those superstar athletes need to give away few days to “entertain” rich corporate executives sponsoring them instead of spending the little time they have with their families or what-have-you their hobbies are).

    I thought the all point of being super rich is to have more freedom? I wonder.Luckily for me, no one sponsors me, virtually all my shirts are clear, and no one is interested in me entraining him other than my family and friends. My grandma may have been born in Poland but I refuse to be a pole.

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    What am I doing while writing this post (or can I multitask?)

    In GTD (Getting Things Done) and other productivity programs there is a lot of criticism about the so called multitasking myth. It is claimed that very few people actually benefit from multitasking, due to something every computer scientist knows: context switching. It basically means that while we shift from one task to the other, gather our thoughts, and prepare for the new task while tiding up mentally the one we just moved away from, we are wasting energies for nothing.

    Furthermore, it seems we are more like iPhone 3 then iPhone 4:

    iPhone 4
    iPhone 4

    We can do some things in parallel if they are based on different input senses (e.g. listen to a friend, while looking at our child in the garden), but when the same sense is involved we cannot easily work simoultanouskly and actually work in sequence, involving lots of rapid context switches, wasting focus and resources.

    It seems that the current era pushes us to the limit with distractions (called tasks – most of them are pure noise) so I have found myself looking at a NY times article (thanks Mark P) of an overly-doing-it . It is interesting to see, as he nearly missed a 1.3M$ acquisition email of his company due to his other “tasks”.

    The fun part was experimenting with the research “games” done by Eyal Ophir and Clifford Nass, Stanford University.

    I tend to work with music on and ambience happening since I was a child, possibly matching a pattern where I need my “hearing” sense to be fully occupied by a controlled stream of low importance (e.g. background music) where I can easily filter it and focus on what I’m doing with my other senses (e.g. thinking, reading and writing) – with this technique I avoid the need to give attention to the audio stream (as I “control” it in low priority) and perhaps earn focus points on the task I’m doing. Hence I enjoyed the
    first test of handling distractions. I guess the reason I did best when confronted with full distractions is this habit.

    The second test was about rapid context switching. It seems I was between high and low multitaskers, where I over performed high multitaskers, but underperformed the low ones. A call for improvement I guess. The researchers have found that multitaskers seem to be more sensitive than non-multitaskers to incoming information.

    What does it all mean? I’ll guess I’ll just grab a bite of my sandwich, have a sift of coffee and remember not to talk while eating as multitasking is hazardous in this instance…

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