Sunday, November 20, 2011

Daniel Pink: Drive (me crazy).

In preparation for a presentation next week on motivation I picked up Daniel Pink’s book Drive.  I’d picked it up once before and couldn’t remember why I didn’t finish reading it.  Now I remember why.  It is the fundamental premise of the book, summed up by Pink himself:
"Cocktail Party Summary: When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system–which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators–doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way."

Really?  Our current business operating system is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators?  That is like saying a deck of cards consists of red cards.  Not entirely false, since red cards are in the deck,  but not sufficiently true to hold up to a quick scrutiny.  After all, half the cards are black.  It is true that some managers use a carrot-and-stick motivational mode.  But there have always been businesses that have been led by far more thoughtful and insightful leaders.

We don’t need science to show us the way, since the path has been well travelled by many business leaders long before the scientist studied the issue.  Robert Galvin at Motorola stands tall in this crowd.  He wrote:
“A wiser man put it thus: We measure the effectiveness of the true leader not in terms of the leadership he exercises but in terms of the leadership he evokes; not in terms of his power over others, but in terms of the power he releases in others; not in terms of the goals he sets and the directions he gives but in terms of the plans of action others work out for themselves with his help; not in terms of decisions made, events completed and the inevitable success and growth that follow from such released energy but in terms of growth in competence, sense of responsibility and in personal satisfaction among many participants.”

Thus, Pink answers a question that’s been answered many times before.  A more interesting question might be, “Why is it that, when the evidence supporting the effectiveness of great leadership is so evident, do we still find managers using techniques that deliver mediocre results?"  There must be something compelling in using coercion to control behavior in others.  That would make for a more interesting psychological study.

Daniel Pink and other business writers are jumping to a solution.  Showing that a particular behavior is a more successful behavior has always proven insufficient to cause adoption of that behavior.  Just ask any parent. This reminds me of the metaphor of the elephant and the rider.  The elephant is our emotional brain, our wants, needs, desires, and impulses.  The rider is our rational, thinking, planning brain.  Laying out what makes for a better management practice addresses the rider’s need.  But clearly the elephant has a different behavior in mind.  When the elephant wants to go one way and the rider another, guess which wins.

Lets redefine the problem:  What is so compelling about management styles, broadly represented as carrot-and-stick methods, that causes managers to use them, when we know these methods are less effective in achieving stated company goals.  How do we replace that behavior with a more effective one?
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