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I’ve just read this book, Drive | Daniel Pink. And it’s challenged everything I’ve ever done as a sales manager, and questioned everything I thought I knew! Seriously.

Interestingly, it also gave voice to a whole load of stuff I felt was the case, but have never been able to put into words. I’m going to try to lay out the basic argument but check out the video, and definitely read the book! I cannot recommend them highly enough.

The basic premise of the book is that science has an understanding of motivation that business appears to ignore. And as soon as you start to read this book (or watch the video) you’ll start to see the point. Business starts from the perspective that people do not WANT to work and require what Dan Pink calls external motivators, contingent motivators, to get results. Let’s take Dan’s suggestion and call them ‘carrot and stick’ motivators.

Behavioural scientists on the other hand, know that people’s optimum motivators are intrinsic. And not in the slightest bit contingent on ‘carrots or sticks’. There are exceptions. The motivation required to perform some simple analogous tasks is very effectively achieved with rewards achieved through performance. But complex tasks, requiring some level of creativity are DIRECTLY UNDERMINED by motivating using ‘carrots or sticks’.

Dan Pink starts the argument off brilliantly with the example of the candle problem featured in the video. Performance of this task, requiring some simple lateral thinking, was reduced when the people attempting the task were ‘rewarded’ for getting the solution in the fastest time. In fact, on average, Dan says the task took three and half minutes longer when the reward was on offer! He goes on to build the case that when the tunnel vision, or super focus that reward and incentive provides us is used to drive performance in tasks requiring a creative ability to solve, the effect is the opposite of what we would hope to achieve.

He builds the case that people are motivated by the following three things far more strongly than any carrot and stick can provide. With one additional caveat, that is, money has to be ‘off the table’. As long as the people in your teams don’t have to worry about what they are paid in terms of others within the organisation and outside working with your competitors.

  1. Autonomy. Autonomy over Task (the job you do), Technique (the way you do it) Team (the people you do it with) and Time (when you do it)
  2. Mastery. Getting into the flow. Working at the optimum level, like the stories of when athletes are ‘in the zone’. Teams are neither too stretched or stretched enough. so-called ‘Goldilocks’ tasks. And getting ‘better’ is reward in itself.
  3. Purpose. People like to be part of something bigger. It needn’t be a charity, thought it clearly can be, it just needs to add value to one’s experience. There needs to be a reason for what we do, and building up something bigger and better is a tremendous motivator.
The book features example after example as to where these principles exist today in successful companies all over the world. Examples like Google’s 20% time. Engineers are given free rein over 20% of their time to work on whatever they want to. Innovations like this have resulted in new products like Gmail, Google Earth and Google Street view. Not a bad return on the 20% given over to the people who are clearly as a result of such management deftness, massively engaged with this company.
If you’ve read my article on sales people and creativity, and sales people’s requirement to be creative to do the job, you’ll see why this book has had such an impact on me!
I think you’ll also see what I mean when I say Dan Pink manages to express what I’ve felt was the case for years, and have never been able to put into words. For instance the weird situation where we ‘pay’ creative writers on their outputs in terms of hitting revenue targets, rather than effectiveness of the message or even the level of response the ads they written have managed to elicit! And why reward them in this way at all? If you want great writers, take salary off the table, and pay the best writers the best money from the off.
Watch the video, and then read the book. As one reviewer put it, I think I’ve spent more time thinking about what the book had to say than I actually did reading it. Highly recommended