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"DRiVE" Me Crazy!

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"DRiVE" Me Crazy!

In his new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink says that a new motivational operating system, what he calls Motivation 3.0, is needed for today’s business because what science has discovered is that people are “intrinsically motivated purpose maximizers.”  The book jacket says, “He (Pink) demonstrates that while carrots and sticks worked successfully in the twentieth century, that’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges.” These kinds of statements drive me crazy.  What does “intrinsically motivated purpose maximizers” mean?  Did “carrot and stick” ever really work? Philosophers, religious leaders, and psychologists through the ages write that we all strive for a purpose that is greater than we are. The humanity contained in such a vision is very compelling and Pink does a good job of linking his ideas to that striving. However, he mixes this very appealing concept with his ill-defined view of what is in fact a well defined, continuously researched science of motivation.

In the end, this book adds more confusion than clarity to a topic that is critically important to the future of our workplaces, indeed, to our society. According to Pink, today’s employees feel constrained and controlled by rewards and reinforcement, as though each word meant the same as the other. He states that Motivation 1.0 was adequate for the caveman and, even now, in highly repetitive jobs, but claims it is woefully inadequate in today’s workplace that depends on high rates of creativity to survive. Is it true that people in the caveman era were not creative? I am sure that the caveman of the television ads, “So easy a caveman can do it” fame would be offended.  Imagine the ‘thinking outside the box’ caveman who came upon the act of fire starting, and then repeated until finally controlling fire.

 Accidental and serendipitous, or novel problem solving? How did we get to where we are today if not for highly creative individuals, most of whom worked in companies that used the very “If you do this, then you get that” approach that Pink says is precisely wrong for the 21st Century? Indeed, the workplaces of today are often more complex, requiring greater variance in problem solving, fast action, and creative effort, as well as repetitive tasks done with viligence and incredible attention to detail.  Creativity is needed as is repetitive task completion. We must know what we really need more of if we are to be competitive in this modern world.  The way to define what is needed (in this case, creative acts or repetitive acts) comes from an understanding of the outcomes desired, and how reinforcement supports and sustains needed patterns of behavior. Contrary to what Pink asserts in his book, the surprising truth about what motivates us is that reinforcement always works, but not always as it is intended. 

The science of behavior has validated that fact in thousands of research studies over the last century.  You don’t always get more of the behavior you reward, but you always get more of any behavior that is reinforced.  That is true today and it was true thousands of years ago.  If creative behavior is reinforced, you (the company, the person) will do more of it.  Count on it.  When work environments are properly arranged to produce positive reinforcers for highly productive, creative outcomes, they always do produce such outcomes. The operating system on which behavior depends is the same today as it was in ancient times.  We are still living in a Motivation 1.0 world.  Motivation is the system that we must understand.

There is no ‘new system of motivation’—what was real about the principles of motivation in the caveman’s era is true today. Pink shifts from motivation, the science of learning, to talking about methods of ‘using’ motivational properties to get what is wanted. There is no Motivation 3.0 world that operates differently in this century because we need different behaviors. There is only motivation. Call it 1.0 or 3.0, if you wish.  What is needed is a clear understanding of the science of behavior, and how to arrange motivational systems, clearly understood, to produce the behaviors needed in complex settings. Pink says the “carrot and stick” approach worked well in the 20th century.  It never worked well—and it is no system of motivation.  It is a coercive technique of managing others that uses threat and fear to get what is wanted. It is based on a very faulty understanding of motivation as a way to accelerate and sustain human excellence. Many great things were accomplished in the 20th century but it wasn’t because businesses used rewards well.  Today, businesses still use concepts that produce inefficient and ineffective management practices.  I have documented some of these in my latest book, Oops: 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money.  

 Businesses did not use the science of behavior to design and manage processes, policies and management practices a thousand years ago and are still not doing it today.  There are new examples every day where catastrophic failures have been produced because business and government failed to use reinforcement and rewards properly.  Enron, the Wall Street bailouts and the economic stimulus did not work out as desired because of improperly designed contingencies of reinforcement. The motivational system that Pink advances ignores the science of behavior—a science that advances by increasing its understanding of the fundamentals -- the laws of behavior. Modern life has not changed the laws of behavior.  Have the laws of gravity been changed by modern life?  Did quantum physics change gravity? Do some objects respond to Physics 1.0 (Newtonian) and others only to Physics 3.0 (Quantum Physics)?  The laws of gravity haven’t changed and the laws of human behavior have not changed either. 

Our understanding of both is what has changed. Pink never adequately addresses the problem of where intrinsic motivation comes from.  To say that people are “intrinsically motivated purpose maximizers” is hardly prescriptive. I can tell you from 40 years of experience, where organizations understand the science of behavior, and use positive reinforcement and rewards consistent with that science, such practices not only produce high-performing organizations but organizations where people love their work—they talk about the intrinsic value and purpose that they give to their work.  It matters not whether they are doing highly repetitive work or are working to create new products and services. 

The laws of behavior work for all. While I understand some of Pink’s vision of a more effective and efficient workplace, I think his solution is confusing and wrong-headed.  In a future Blog, I will have more to say about what we know about ensuring creativity at work. Read Drive Me Crazy Part 2  Search "motivation" on this blog to read more.

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Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.


Hi Aubrey, a few years ago I was certified to use train managers in the <a href="http://aubreydaniels.com/?q=node/74" rel="nofollow">PM Basics </a>program. I saw a lot of fantastic improvements when the team leaders and managers I would coach used the concepts in the program. In terms of motivation, I have found that it is very unique to the individual. Nothing unusual there, I hear you say. I used a psychometric tool (Predictive Index), which identifies workplace behaviours. Although I do not like to pigeon hole people based on a 'tool' or a 'test' I found this one particularly accurate. The MOST practical application was in using the tool to identify an individuals work motivational needs, and then using the data as a conversation starter to develop ways to 'motivate' performance, and then reinforce the positive behaviour. When both a manager and one of their people were aware of each others motivational needs, this facilitated improved ways to communicate, which led to improved community within the teams. I recall taking over a team which had a 'carrot and BIG stick' manager. He thought he was getting agreement from his team, but they would agree on what he said to keep him from yelling more, and then do whatever they wanted. He never followed through with anything other than more yelling in terms of consequences, so it was little wonder to me that his people never achieved the desired results.

Thanks for compelling insights here and for your wonderful work to help motivate and inspire people to move on, help others, move up, and answer their higher calls. I am challenged by your ideas, and also moved by Daniel Pink’s. Key is that the notion of “one size fits all” – rarely fit my own gender – much less does it fit people who think, act and plan differently. That’s why it’s time to draw more from opposing views rather than try to force one person’s offering into pre-eminence. Brains wire differently, and require space to play out those differences in circles that value other’s ideas, and follow new neuron pathways based on shared insights, research and lived experience. Having laid that groundwork, can you see why I agree with you both, and at times with neither of you, on certain issues related to what’s germane to motivation. The brain has yet to yield many of its secrets in this area, and so it’s urgent to facilitate roundtables where we find common ground and build new understandings from widely different places. The era of usurping one man’s idea to fly over another’s is over and I’d like to propose that it works far less well than creating the unique tone that allows for bright glimpses from several angles. It’s a bit like holding valued ideas up to the rainbow and taking another look through new colors – illustrated by another brain in the business For all the reasons stated here, I wrote a blog a few days ago showing 10 reasons we elect to clobber any brainy bloke. It’s old hat and it excludes the best minds in the field, many of whom we have yet to hear. Then I showed how motivation comes from facilitating the best from more diverse minds. I can see and value different highways toward motivation in your work and in Pink’s, whom I also value deeply and often read. Yet it takes unique smart skills of brain based facilitation, and brain based tone to engage diverse ideas from either of you that can motivate or draw me into a meaningful discourse. That’s why I suspect others too may find more motivation in a different kind of tone, than one where one person must be “right” and the other must lose, before we’ve had opportunity to integrate both into deeper understandings. While great competition, clothed in good sportship (my word ) works well to motivate me, exclusion of some player’s ideas to raise up others, drains my motivation to contribute or show further insights from my own 30 year work in the field. That’s the game change I suggest for a more innovative leadership that will foster think tanks with diverse leaders on the topic of motivation and leadership for a new era. My 2-bits – with thanks for the great ideas you laid out here - insights allow room for yet another angle – from another gender – and another leader in the field.

With a background in education and business leadership change and improvement, over time I have learned that one size doesn't fit all. For instance there's a great deal of difference in whether intrinsic or extrinsic motivation works. Just as we have very differentiated intelligences, so we have varied reactions to the idea of the kind of reward that makes a difference. While some give time and effort to go and assist in the Hatian crisis, for instance, others might give money and still others may not respond to the appeals. Some may be motivated by pictures they see, others by the news reports and interviews, still others by an urge within to help brothers and sisters in need, others may want to be a part of the reforestation and restoration of natural elements, others by songs the people sing in the midst of crisis. If you look at motivation through the multiple intelligences you can see it would be very hard to reign this in. You offer some excellent points, Aubrey as does Dan. We need both views and more!

Drive made me a little crazy, too, Aubrey. My 2 star review was summed up this way. "If you're thinking about buying Drive, consider making do with the Pink's TED talk instead. If you buy the book, read it critically. There are important ideas here. But Drive is written like a political speech, out to make a point or two without much regard for balanced presentation or sharing all the facts." The review is at http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2010/01/24/book-review-drive-by-dan-pink.aspx My question for you concerns terminology. You say on of "carrots and sticks" that "It never worked well—and it is no system of motivation. It is a coercive technique of managing others that uses threat and fear to get what is wanted." It seems to me that the "carrots" part refers specifically to rewarding behavior you want. I don't see how you can call it "threat and fear." And you say that behaviors that are reinforced are more will continue. But if you're not using positive and negative consequences to reinforce behavior, what are you using?

I'm with you on this Aubrey. I too found many, many problems with the approach outlined by Dan Pink. Specifically, there is no discussion of time - how does the AMP approach fit within a time frame for achieving your companies objectives. I don't know about you but business needs to be done on a clock. I probably spent more time and energy talking about how this is bad for companies than it deserves. At the risk of being too promotional, you can take a look at my reviews here: http://www.i2i-align.com/2010/01/drive-the-surprising-truth-about-motivation-you-wont-find-in-this-book.html and here: http://www.i2i-align.com/2010/01/drive-one-mans-review-behind-the-wheel.html

Lisa Haneberg at Management Craft shares some of her insight on this debate in her blog at http://www.managementcraft.com/2010/01/aubrey-daniels-versus-dan-pink-bam-management.html

I certainly agree that one size does not fit all in what is positively reinforcing. That fact has been validated by behavior analytic research for many years. Indeed, a large part of what makes us unique is the fact the no two people have exactly the same reinforcers. Even though I understand the science, it never ceases to amaze me to see what some people will spend time and money to do. What we like, value and appreciate takes billions of forms. If people don't understand this basic fact, they have a difficult time developing effective relationships at home, at work and at play.

Again, I can't think on any situation where one size fits all. Anything may fit more than one, but certainly not all. Our uniqueness comes not only from our obvious external physical differences but also from our behavioral and internal physical ones as well. Not only are our brains wired differently from birth but they are being constantly rewired with every experience we have every day. Modern technology has allowed us to "see" the brain operate and what the imaging research is discovering is "mind boggeling." (Pun intended.) The same kind of scientific processes that uncover how the brain operates are also needed to understand how behavior is changed and maintained. This process (science) helps separate opinion from fact. It gets under my skin when people present their opinions as fact. Pseudo-science is more often than not disguised opinion. (Opinion seeking validation.) That is my problem with several of the more popular business and self-help books.

I think it is important to note that Dan Pink's appeal to the intrinsic value is still a contingent reinforcer - just a poorly identified and articulated one that is mis-attributed to some autonomous man (as B.F. Skinner would put it).

Regarding carrot and stick - I was recently pointed to a great presentation which shows this approach seems to work in specific environments and what is surprising it is not the size of the stick which makes a difference (<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc" rel="nofollow">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc</a>). And of course the old truth works here as everywhere: you get what you measure. If your measures are flawed you won't get decent results no matter how hard you try.

I just drove Dr. Daniels "crazy"!? by bring this question up again on twitter 2 years after the fact. I asked him what the appropriate "organizational behavior" response would be to the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc (cartoonization of the Pink motivation hypothesis) Sorry Dr. Daniels; I didn't know I was trying to reinvent the wheel on this one. I think the bottom line is that the way positive reinforcement works is counter intuitive and takes some basic learning to really get. I've never met anyone who tried to refute the behavioral understanding of human motivation, who actually understood or could explain it in the first place. The reason I asked, was because both as a professional counselor and organizational consultant, I have always been deeply puzzled at how people just don't "get" what positive reinforcement really is. Respectfully, I wonder if Dr. Pink gets it. I guess there's only 2 options: 1) mandatory behavior analytic training (BCBA)for mangers and supervisors or, actually demonstrating the results of behavioral practices in action, which is I guess what Aubrey Daniels International does everyday. Thanks for responding on Twitter @AubreyDaniels !

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