Last Updated Jan 29, 2010 10:13 AM EST
Imagine three scenarios: In the first, you see a review of Daniel Pink's new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us on MoneyWatch.com and you feel compelled to read it because your boss really loves books by Daniel Pink, the bestselling author of A Whole New Mind. And if you don't really love books by Pink, you're going to be on the receiving end of squinty-eyed glares from said boss that translate to, "you have just moved from my inner circle to the professional Siberia that is (cue ominous bass notes from Jaws) my outer circle." We'll call this the "stick" scenario.
In the second scenario, I'm paying you 10 bucks to read my review. (Which you're now 120 words into, so you've already earned $1.38, on a pro rata basis.) That'll be the "carrot" scenario. If you've been carrot-and-sticked before — and who hasn't? — this probably feels familiar.
But consider a third scenario: Let's say you read my review simply because you want to learn more about motivation, because you're determined to really understand it, and because you feel that there's some greater value in understanding motivation generally. We'll call that the "this is what Daniel Pink's new book is about" scenario.
And therein lies the beauty. Forget bonuses. (Expensive!) Forget punishments. (Awkward!) Your creative employees will work just fine on their own because they want to. Because they enjoy the work.
According to Pink, the third scenario is optimal because people are best motivated not by the old, supposedly reliable carrot-and-stick incentives but by “intrinsic motivation,” wherein the performance of the task is its own reward — when work doesn’t feel like work.
Pink explains intrinsic motivation as a natural evolution from earlier modes of motivation. The earliest, which Pink calls “motivation: 1.0,” is a biological drive — everything you’d find at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. Like all other animals, we’re motivated by a need for survival.
But as humans became more social and survival needs changed, “motivation 2.0” emerged and we began to respond to external motivators, or rewards and punishments. Pink maintains that conventional wisdom about what facilitates peak performance and optimal creativity is grounded in assumptions we make about motivation 2.0. We’re all familiar with bonuses and disciplinary action as modern management tools. But they don’t always work.
In fact, they’re far less effective for people who are driven by “motivation 3.0” — an intrinsic motivation characterized by the desire to have autonomy over what one is doing, to master it in some way and to do in the service of some higher purpose.
Less Cash, More Creativity?
Pink argues that intrinsic motivation leads to more creative outcomes over the long term in part because people who are intrinsically motivated are more persistent. As an illustration, Pink describes an experiment conducted by Karl Duncker in the 1930s: Subjects were given a candle, a box of tacks and a book of matches resting on a table flush against a wall and asked to affix the candle to the wall in way that would prevent wax from dripping onto the table. Another psychologist, Sam Glucksberg, repeated the experiment, but told one group of subjects they would receive $5 for completing the task quickly and told another group that they were merely being observed to see how long the task would take. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the group without the cash incentive completed the task faster. The creative solution is to recognize that the box itself is a key tool required to complete the task. Apparently, the monetary reward actually stifles creativity.
While Drive is guilty of some of the more annoying and ubiquitous business book clich s — needless redundant explanations of straightforward concepts and the point-0 taxonomy that will make it seem extremely dated in a decade or two (3.0 anything is a little too 2007), it offers practical advice that is all the more useful because these core psychological principles are rarely translated into management.
One is that rewards in the form of tangibles — bonuses, higher salaries, promotions — can often be de-motivating. They work well for routine assignments based on specific rules or “algorithmic tasks.” (Think: boring, repetitive work.) But for tasks that require creative thinking and present no obvious formula-based solution, or “heuristic tasks,” they narrow focus and often result short-term and short-sighted solutions.
Another valuable insight is that people are the most productive and satisfied when their work puts them in a state that provides them with the most satisfaction, known as “flow”— more commonly recognized as being “in the zone.” In the flow state, the participant experiences a heightened sense of focus and a generally higher sense of satisfaction. What we know about flow is mostly based on the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, whose seminal book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, described flow as the moment at which “a person’s body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Taking a page from Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, who are best known as the inventors of the Type A/Type B behavioral classifications that have littered career surveys and self-help quizzes since the 1950s, Pink suggests that we begin to experience flow and the resulting peak performance when we move from “Type X” behavior to “Type I” behavior. Type I personalities, as defined by Pink, are motivated by intrinsic rewards, whereas Type X personalities are motivation 2.0 people. Type X is short-term oriented, Type I is long term.
How to Change Your Team
So how to move yourself — and your team — from Type X to Type I? Pink offers three critical conditions for a motivation 3.0 environment in the second part of the book: Give people autonomy over what they’re doing and how they do it, an opportunity to master it and a sense of purpose in doing it in the first place. Pink points to instances of practical implementations of this — most notably, Best Buy’s ROWE (“results oriented work environment”) program, where employees have no schedules and are measured only by what they get done. He also points to Google’s famous 20 percent program, where engineers are allowed to use 20 percent of their time to work on projects that interest them, and a similar implementation of the principle at an Australian tech company called Atlassian where engineers are given a full day each quarter to work on any software problem they wish, a ritual the company calls its “FedEx” days (completed projects are delivered overnight). “Some of the coolest stuff we have in our company today has come from FedEx days,” one of their engineers tells Pink.
The third part of the book is a toolkit which has the dual purpose of providing specific ways to implement the principles in the book in a real life setting — everything from educating your children to managing your exercise schedule — and perhaps saving the reader some redundant explanations in the service of extending book length (a mercy for which this reader is grateful). It also highlights the universality of intrinsic motivation and its application in areas beyond the obvious realms of management and career development. (Need your kid to clean his room? Try the Tom Sawyer method — “painting the fence is fun! Really! If you pay me, I’ll let you do it!”)
Pink’s theories won’t be palatable to everyone. Our notions of what constitutes proper motivation in the office are often too calcified to be flexible, not to mention that it’s hard to imagine a world without incentive compensation. Some of us like the carrots, if not the sticks. But for those who recognize the value of intrinsic motivation and can implement it, we can expect a whole new workplace — and an entirely new definition of work.
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