Daniel Pink – Catalyst 2010

Dan Pink an author and researcher on the science of motivation. He wrote the NYT bestseller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. You should also check out this amazing talk he did at TED on motivation.

Part of what it is to be human is to satisfy our biological desires, but we have other drives.

We respond very well to rewards and punishments.  When you reward something, you get more of that behavior, when you punish it, you get less, but that’s not all it is to be human.

We have other motivators: because they’re interesting, we have faith, they make a contribution to the world, they’re the right things to do, they’re satisfying.

What are you doing here? Chances are that over the course of these three days, you’re not going to find a mate.  You’re probably not going to make any money.  You’re here because of that third drive.

So often in businesses and organizations, we stop at that second drive: rewards and punishments.  That’s the way to get people to perform.  We neglect that third drive.

It might be wrong morally, but it’s wrong scientifically as well.  It’s simply not true.  This has been studied by psychologists, biologists, etc. over the past 50 years.  That second drive, rewarding the behavior you want, punishing the behavior you don’t want, that’s effective in some cases, but in a very narrow band of circumstances.  Getting people to perform at a higher level happens when we

Dan Arielli at Duke University, has written two books (read them).  He separated people into three groups, he had them do physical tasks, simple intellectual tasks, and complex intellectual tasks.  He gave them different incentives.  The first group got a little money for being a top perform. The second group got a medium amount of money for being a top performer.  The third group got a large amount of money.  As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they expected, higher pay = better performance, but once it called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.

That doesn’t seem right, does it?  But that is how it works.  If you want people to do relatively simple work, that’s the best strategy.  Once you ask people to do complicated, creative, and conceptual things, if you do this, then you get that, those things work well.  These kinds of rewards are great for simple things because they focus you, but for creative, complicated things, you don’t want to be focused.

This is such a solid finding in science that it’s almost uncontroversial.  Yet our businesses, our organizations haven’t figured this out.  How many of you draw on rudimentary cognitive skills or above in your daily job.  We have to do work you can’t outsource or automate.  We have to be like artists.

Let’s look at a study of artists.

23 artists, painters and sculpters, were asked to give up 10 commissioned and 10 non commissioned works each.  The researcher takes the pieces and gives them to a panel of experts.  “Our results were quite startling.”  The commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the non-commissioned works, yet they were not rated as different in technical quality.

Inside our organizations, it’s all commissioned work, but what really motivates people is that third drive, not the second drive.  When we see the carrot and stick motivators fail efore our eyes, we think we need more carrots and sharper sticks, rather than scrapping the carrots and sticks.  Science tells us this is wrong.

What does work?  How do you motivate the people on your team, in your organization?

Fact: Money is a motivator.  You know that’s a fact.  In your work, people are exquisitely attuned to fairness.  You’ve got to pay people enough.  You’ve got to pay people fairly.  If you’re not paying people enough, you will have low motivation, they’ll do just enough to scrape by, but once you’re paying them enough, additional dollars have little effect as a motivator.  Pay people enough to take money off the table.

So what do you do next?  3 Key Ingredients:

  1. Autonomy – To understand autonomy, we have to think about management.  This is a concept we don’t scrutinize.  We think that management eminated from nature or was delivered to us from God, but that’s not true, but it is something some guy invented.  Management is a technology.  It is a technology for organizing people into productive capacity, a technology from the 1850s.  How many of you use technology from the 1850s?The technology of management is designed to get compliance, to get people to do what you want them to do how you want them to do it, but that’s not what we want.  We want engagement, and people don’t engage by being managed.  They don’t engaged by being controlled.  They become engaged by getting there on their own.  What this means is that we need to allow enormous amounts of autonomy over key aspects of work: time, technique, team, and task.  When people have autonomy over these things, they simply do better.  What’s going on out there is a very different approach to the technology formerly known as management.There’s an Australian company known as Atlassian, an Australian software company.  Once a quarter, they spend their software developers off for an afternoon to work on whatever they want for whomever they want, but you have to show your results at a fun meeting on Friday.  They call them FedEx Days because you have to deliver them overnight.  This has resulted in tons of new projects and ideas.  It’s worked so well that they’ve upped the ante so that they now have 20% time.  You can use 20% of your time to work on whatever you want.  This has resulted in great things.  Google does this, Google News, Gmail.  Netflix has a vacation policy.  They don’t have one.  People can take as much vacation as they want whenever they want it.  Best Buy has results only work environment in their corporate office.  They don’t have schedules, don’t have to be in there office at a certain time or any time.  They just have to produce results.  Zappos says to just solve customers problems.  They don’t have scripts.  Zappos comes out of nowhere to have one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in all of North America.  It rivals the Four Seasons.My challenge: try a FedEx Day.  The first one may be just okay, by the second time, people have it down.
  2. Mastery – Our desire to get better at stuff.Why do we like to get better at stuff? Because we like to.  It’s an inherent desireThe single most motivating thing at work is making progress.  The problem is that in our organizations, the only way to achieve mastery is feedback.  You’ve got to give feedback.  But all we want to do is an annual performance review.  What’s the problem?  It’s annual.  What if Serena Williams got feedback on her tennis game once a year?  She wouldn’t be a very good tennis player.  The annual performance review is almost irredemable.Millennials always ask for feedback.  Boomers see this as an inherent neediness.  They grew up in a very feedback rich world.  They get into the workplace, and it’s essentially a feedback desert.We’ve got to do our own performance reviews.  At the beginning of the month, set out performance and learning goals.  At the end of the month, evaluate yourself.  Good teams already do this.  Small entrepreneurs have been doing this forever.  We can’t outsource performance evaluation to others.  If you look at the stories of athletes, they’re meticulous about this.
  3. PurposeWe’ve seen the limits of the profit motive over the last few years.  It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not everything.When the profit motive becomes unhitched from the purpose motive, we end up with not only immoral, bad things, but also just mediocre things.  We just don’t do as good of a job.

Carrots and sticks are so last century. For 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.

A great person is a sentence. People who do things that last aren’t trying to do many things in a mediocre way, they’re trying to do one or two things in a great way.  Abraham Lincoln “preserved the union and freed the slaves.”  Franklin Roosevelt “lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a world war.”

What’s my sentence?  What’s the sentence? How do you distill what you’re about into a single sentence?  It’s necessary, not sufficient.

Was I better today than yesterday? Often, the answer is no, but when I keep asking myself this question, the answer is rarely no two days in a row.  You wake up the next day with a little bit more resolve.

Posted at 11:42 AM on October 7th, 2010
More in Leadership
Scott Harrison – Catalyst 2010

Scott Harrison founded charity:water. My mom’s life was destroyed by carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of a problem with...