Drive Me Crazy, Part 2

This Pink thing keeps resurfacing.  He has a new video on YouTube that uses some real neat white board technology that is attracting attention.  Unfortunately, the message on the white board is the same as his book, only the medium is different.  Although there are many things about his speeches and writing that bother me, I will list only a few here.

  1. Pink’s understanding of motivation seems to rely heavily on Edward Deci’s work on intrinsic motivation and Dan Ariely’s study of monetary incentives in India and with college students in the U.S.  I have examined the studies he refers to and there are many methodological problems with them.  As I read them, both authors generalize beyond their data and Pink generalizes even further.  I will not take the time to write about all the problems in the research, but if you are interested make a comment about that and I will be happy to detail them for you later.
  2. Although Pink considers IF/THEN rewards “so last century,” he seems to discount them in his own life.  “If you commit to write a book Mr. Pink then we will give you a cash advance.”  “ If you give a speech then we will pay you a speaker’s fee plus expenses.”
  3. Pink never met a popular writer that he didn’t like.  He tries to fit them all into “his science “ and overlooks contradictions in his examples.  In his section on The Zen of Compensation (p171), he says, “Paying people the Type I way doesn’t mean paying everyone the same amount.  If Fred has a harder job or contributes more to the organization than you, he deserves a richer deal.”  Excuse me, but isn’t that an IF/THEN?  He states (p.208) that “humans by their nature seek purpose—a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.”  Does he mean all humans or just those who are doing 21st century type work?
  4. Pink presents no science of behavior in his books.  Just because a study has an experimental and control group does not make it scientific.  Additionally, a variety of scientific studies does not constitute a science. Pink constantly hedges his bets on his presentation of “the surprising truth about what motivates us.”  He has a section called: Seven Reasons Carrots and Sticks (Often) Don’t work.  Wait a minute.  I thought this was about science.  He divides behavior into two classes, Type I and Type X.  Type I is behavior “fueled by intrinsic desires more than extrinsic ones.”  You can guess that Type X is motivated by extrinsic more than intrinsic ones.  (I will have more to say about extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation in another blog.)  However, he then goes on to say that nobody exhibits only Type I or Type X behavior.  Isn’t science about universal laws?  When does the law of gravity not work?  When does combining two molecules of hydrogen with one molecule of oxygen not produce water?  A science of behavior applies to all behavior everywhere.  Nothing in the book applies to behavior everywhere.
  5. Pink evidences no understanding of the concept or practice of positive reinforcement.  Every individual on the face of the earth has a different set of reinforcers.  Behavioral economists assume money is a universal reinforcer.  It is not.  Nothing is a positive reinforcer to everyone.  Everything is a reinforcer to someone.  Can reinforcers be used badly?  You bet.   Do most organizations understand the proper use of rewards and reinforcers (they are different)?  No.  As I have said often, “you don’t always get more of what you reward but you always get more of what you reinforce.”  Positive reinforcement is as reliable in its effects on behavior as is gravity.  Pink is not the only popular business writer that doesn’t understand that fact.
  6. And the last thing for today is the one that I find the most offensive.  Inherent in his book is the notion of a class society that I reject.  According to Pink, some people who have routine repetitive jobs are impacted by carrot and stick (inferior rewards) where as people engaged in the important work of the new century (creative work) seek more noble rewards (autonomy, mastery and purpose).  Does he not think that Egyptians, Greeks and Romans who built great civilizations were motivated by noble rewards?  Isn’t everybody.  (I think Pink was in politics too long.)  All you have to do to understand that there are people at the front-line of every organization who are motivated as much by autonomy, mastery and purpose, is to watch Undercover Boss on Sunday night.  These are conditions that are not the province of a few, they are important to all.

There, I feel better now.

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.