Monday #47: Think Pink

Are you a parent?  Are you a teacher or an administrator?  Are you a business leader?  Are you someone who works with other people? Are you interested in how to motivate yourself and the people around you? Well, then meet Daniel Pink.  I’ve just finished his most recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  It’s a fascinating and quick read and it delivers a message that is incredibly useful for just about any person in the world who wants more effective interaction with other people in both their personal and professional relationships.  Best of all, Pink’s assessment is backed up by years and years of real, scientific data that proves, in a nutshell, that, while so much of the world believes that carrots and sticks are the way to manage people, they don’t really work.  And, it turns out, in the fast-paced, global economy of the 21st Century, this is going to become more and more critical for us to realize.

We all use carrots and sticks because it seems easy, at least initially, to do so.  It’s the “if, then” way–if you do this, then you get that–contingency rewards that can be effective for routine tasks but, for creative tasks, can actually do more harm than good.  “If, then” scenarios are based on extrinsic motivation and have serious limitations for all kinds of “working” environments because their positive effects aren’t long lasting.  Additionally, an “If, then” directive immediately indicates that the nature of the task is such that it would not be done for its own sake.  It implies that its completion requires a reward and its incompletion, a punishment at the same time that it almost insures we will be less interested in this task the next time.  Pink’s discussion of the two different kinds of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic, reveals the basic truth that, deep down inside, we can probably all easily understand: intrinsic motivation makes our work more meaningful and keeps us engaged in the task, not only for the moment but for the long term.

Daniel Pink believes that our entire business model is still operating on old notions about how to get workers to do things (he also acknowledges that our education system follows suit and those in education will readily see the parallels between the management of employees and the management of students).  He calls this more industrial-minded type of business model Motivation 2.0.  What we need as we move into this more globally oriented, internet-driven 21st Century is a complete overhaul of how business is done and how people are managed in work environments.  He calls this model Motivation 3.0.  In Motivation 3.0, people aren’t manipulated by the “If, then” managerial style and are, instead, given more freedom to make personal choices about their work, including situations where they can use a portion of their work day or week to apply their expertise to personal projects.  Through these side, but professionally oriented, explorations, they are able to tap into true interests and talents and discover the joy that can be found in meaningful work.  And, these personal results often lead to big, profitable ideas that benefit their employers, colleagues and the company as a whole.  It’s a win-win.  Google, one of the most progressive and inventive companies out there, is a testament to this type of intrinsically motivated workforce.

Early on in Drive, Pink introduces his alternative to the historic Type A and Type B personality categorizations, which he calls Type I (for Intrinsic) and Type X (for Extrinsic).

Type X behavior is fueled more by extrinsic desires than intrinsic ones.  It concerns itself less with the inherent satisfaction of an activity and more with the external rewards to which that activity leads.  The Motivation 3.0 operating system–the upgrade that’s needed to meet the new realities of how we organize, think about, and do what we do–depends on what I call Type I behavior.  Type I behavior is fueled more by external rewards to which an activity leads and more with the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself.

As someone who has been able to forge a cobbled together career out of a variety of freelance work (art, design, education and consulting), I am staunchly Type I, although I never take for granted the opportunities and relationships that make this life possible for me. You can use Pink’s quick, online assessment tool to find out whether you are Type I or Type X.

Drive covers some truly radical sounding ideas for business, with one of them being the ROWE model.  ROWE is an acronym for Results Only Work Environment and is a working environment where employees don’t have schedules but, instead, just simply have to get their work done.  They don’t have start and finish times, they don’t have anyone in the HR department counting their hours or days off for vacation and sick days and they don’t have set times for breaks or lunches.  They just have to get their work done.  It sounds crazy but I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear me tell you that in these work environments productivity goes up, job satisfaction goes up and worker turnover goes down–even when these workers could switch jobs for more money.

You can watch children at play in backyards, parks and playgrounds anywhere in the world.  They will go nonstop and enthusiastically for hours, orchestrating elaborate games, imagining and enacting great scripts, problem solving with a group, directing and delegating tasks.  No one tells them they are working, but they are.  Play is a child’s work.  All the activities that they are involved in are precursors to the types of activities in which they will be engaged in almost any career they choose.  Why do they do this with such joy?  Why will they do it for hours a day, day after day?  Because no one tells them, “If you play, then you’ll get….”  No one tells them, “If you don’t play, then you’ll get…” I find it ironic that we expect children to play and so we sit back and let them get on with the business of play all on their own.

Somewhere down the road, however, they are going to encounter our less fun world of carrots and sticks where play and work have a sharp and unfortunate delineation.  They will also quickly realize that the joy of learning will be thwacked out by the great big stick of standardized testing.  There are rumblings, though, from those, like Daniel Pink, who aim to make us better versions of ourselves.  We can do it.  We must do it.

Check out Daniel Pink’s TED talk to get the gist of Drive.

TRY THIS WEEK: Find the play in your work, even if it is in small amounts.

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About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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