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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