The Employee Engagement Network

Part II - Review of Dan Pink's Book Drive

Driveshadow2 Yesterday I gave you the short answer on Dan Pink’s new book “Drive.”

Good book, but not the be-all and end-all of books on motivation.

That is an important sentence.

Do not use this book as your bible for employee motivation. While the book’s main point is well made – people perform better when they have control over their work, see progress in mastering it and contribute to a higher purpose – that alone can’t drive business success.

I believe the book is designed to convince your that almost all of the work done today – or to be done tomorrow – is better influenced through the autonomy, mastery and purpose model (AMP) and that most, if not all, incentive-based performance programs should go the way of the Dodo.

Don’t fall for it.

Today I give you the long answer on why you shouldn't take Drive as gospel and trash your current reward and incentive programs. (This is a long post - if you need to read it off line - there is a button in the right sidebar about halfway down where you can get a PDF of the post or email a PDF to yourself or someone else.)

Why You Shouldn't Drive

I think this is just ONE piece in a puzzle, one color in a rainbow, one thread in a tapestry – of all the ways to influence behavior in your organization. The concepts and ideas in Drive do apply - in some segments of your employee base, but not all. While the concept of motivation through allowing employees to have autonomy, mastery and purpose (AMP) is nice, and could engage some people, it is not, IMHO, a workable business plan for motivation in an organization.

Take what Mr. Pink has to say as another input on motivation within your organization. Meld it with other data, other points of view – and most importantly, think about what you want to accomplish and what you need to do to influence and direct your employee’s behavior. As I have said about normal reward programs - apply the concepts where they make sense. Use your own brain and determine where the AMP concept will have impact - and where good, old-fashioned rewards still make sense.

I am hopefully not nitpicking here. I want readers to look at the book as a thought starter and not a thought finisher. Read it critically.

From my point of view there are three basic issues that should rein in your desire to go “full metal Drive” and adopt the AMP approach in your organization.

#1. There IS Science Behind Incentives

Carrot4When referring to incentives, or as Mr. Pink states, “if-then” awards, he says “organizations operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted in folklore more than science.”

This is blatantly false. There is a litany of evidence from many sources that have shown true business performance increases when incentives are correctly applied – both in academia and in company analysis of incentive and reward programs over the years. (for two such sources see the Incentive Research Foundation website and check out this book: Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation: Resolving the Controversy.)

In addition, Mr. Pink contradicts himself within the book.

To quote directly: “The science shows that it is possible – though tricky – to incorporate rewards into nonroutine, more creative settings without causing a cascade of damage.”

So in one sentence Mr. Pink declares that organizations are basing their incentive programs on folklore – but in another he says there is science behind the design of incentive programs. Which is it?

He does say it’s tricky – but hey, I’ve been harping on that for over 3 years (now will you believe me?)

2. Rationale for the need of a “new motivation paradigm” is flawed

Wiki1Mr. Pink’s argues that incentives worked in the past – in an industrialized economy. But, due to changes in business – both those doing it and the models underlying it – “carrots and sticks” are no longer effective and a new version of motivation is needed (Motivation 3.0)

He highlights three things as evidence of this change in the business environment – and each are shaky legs to base a theory on:

First: Mr. Pink suggests that the success of Wikipedia is evidence that people – and by extension - employees –want to be autonomous, be driven toward mastery and be part of a purposeful endeavor. He cites the tremendous number of contributors to Wikipedia as proof that this is a new evolutionary step in work. This uncompensated model of work, in his mind, is evidence of new paradigm of why people do things.

I agree that Wikipedia is an interesting example of non-compensated work. But it doesn't apply in an organization due to the issue of scale.

The real question isn’t the number of people – it’s the percentage of total users that are motivated this way. Wikipedia, for all intents and purposes has the entire population of the internet at its disposal yet contributors make up a very small portion of “users.”

Depending on which result you go to in google, active contributors can be .05% (that’s .0005) of users, or 49,000 out of 325 MILLION users (WSJ Nov 2009 - subscription req'd), or that only 1.8% of users account for 72% of contributions. Not to mention, Wikipedia is losing contributors (49,000 less in the first three months of 2009) and is in fact offering incentives (the 2.0 kind) to get people to contribute.

In any event – contributors are a small, small percentage of users. Wikipedia is a “long tail” business – very few in the population contribute. Wikipedia has scale. Companies don’t.

To put that in terms of business – the world’s largest employer is Walmart. If the stats above hold true for Wal-Mart, then approximately 1,000 employees out of 2 million would be motivated by the new paradigm. That’s one person in 1/7th of their stores. Not really enough critical mass to support changing an entire reward strategy.

Using the number of active contributors to Wikipedia as a benchmark for the “overwhelming change in how people are motivated” you’d have to have a company of over 2,000 employees before you’d have ONE employee that falls into the category Mr. Pink says is now influenced by the AMP approach.


Second: Mr Pink cites the “Ultimatum” experiment as evidence we live in a more altruistic society – A new age of giving and concern for our fellow person. But there is more to this story.

The “Ultimatum” game is an experiment (typically using students at universities) where you have the ability to give a portion of $20 to another player – any portion you choose – and the other person can accept or decline the offer. If they decline the offer you both get nothing. In a purely economic world, you should accept any offer – it’s free money. The person doing the offering should offer as little as 1 cent since they will therefore maximize their return and you should take anything over zero. However, when the game is run most people reject offers of less than $2.00. Mr. Pink uses this as evidence of our “altruism” and sense of fair play. His point is that we are motivated by altruism and purpose.

But… here’s a big but… The book SuperFreakonomics also has an interesting take on the “Ultimatum” game. Here’s the run up: There is a variation of this game called the “Dictator” game, were the person has a choice of giving money to the recipient but they can’t refuse any offer. This was devised to see if the results from the “Ultimatum” game were really altruism. True to form – 70% of the time the “dictator” gave at least 25% of the total to the other player – even when the other player couldn’t refuse any amount. (However, if we were really altruistic we'd give at least 50% and probably more, no?)

But as outlined in SuperFreakonomics, John List added a twist to this game. He allowed the “dictator” to have the same choices PLUS the choice of taking $1 from the other player. This time only 35% (half the number of the original game) of the “dictators” gave money. 45% gave nothing and 20% took the $1. In another iteration, both players were given $20 with one player having the option to give money, or take money from the other player. In this scenario, only 10% gave money and full 60% took money from the other player. So much for altruism.

Third… Mr. Pink highlights opinions from Harvard researchers that show incentives work well for algorithmic task (tasks with specific steps and processes) but don’t work well for heuristic work – work that requires experimentation and putting together new ideas. He cites McKinsey & Co. predictions that 70% of job growth in the US will come from jobs that require heuristic work. Work not positively impacted by incentives.

Read that again – 70% of job GROWTH – not 70% of jobs (no mention of the time frame for that growth BTW.) There is a big difference in those two points of view. I’m guessing most folks will read that as 70% of jobs. That would mean that a huge proportion of jobs in the US will still be positively impacted by traditional reward systems. Additionally, that is a guess, an estimate by McKinsey & Co. not a fact.

I won’t deny that jobs are getting more complex and may require more rigor associated with incentive applications – but I don’t believe that we should completely overhaul our thinking on a 70% figure applied to a flat if not declining job picture and an unsubstantiated estimate. Just sayin’.

ClocksmallAnd Finally…#3 – Time isn’t considered as a constraint in any of the discussions

This is probably the biggest concern I have with people jumping on the Drive bandwagon and upending their entire company reward systems.

The AMP point of view on motivation never takes TIME into account as a variable or a constraint when discussing how to influence behavior. Not once in the book was there a discussion on timetables for any of the “autonomy, master, purpose” elements.

We run businesses. We don’t run enlightenment camps. Time is a critical variable in any business plan. Either I get to market first or someone else does. Either I hit my deadlines with product development or someone else launches first. Either I get more, better innovative ideas in my pipeline or my competitor does.

I don’t have time to wait for someone to find mastery and purpose. I have to get work done now.

I understand that in a perfect world we’d all be on our own internal clock – working at the pace we decide (autonomy) toward a goal of mastery we set and for the reasons we determine. But I’m a manager of people – and those people have to work within the environment of the business and on the timetables of the market. Those elements are never discussed in Drive.

I know if I run a 60 day incentive program to move some product, in 60 days I’ll have a result. If I apply Mr. Pink's Drive philosophy I may never hit my 60 day goal.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln…

I’m being a bit facetious here to prove a point.

I like the book. I like the concept. If I were you I’d look into including ways employees can have more autonomy. I’d make sure you connect your business and their jobs to a higher purpose. I’d also find out what they want to be masters of – and let them.

What I wouldn’t do is throw away all incentive and reward programs - adopt the AMP point of view – and hope that sometime in the near future everyone is motivated. That’s just not the real world folks.

Please – take this book as a nice read – one that opens some interesting discussions. Don’t go all new-agey on me. Unless you want your competition to eat your lunch – ‘cuz they will – they have timelines.

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Comment by Phil Dunn on April 29, 2010 at 2:38pm
Good points about timelines/lunch eating. You often hear "who's got time to get creative" when talking about quotas in the sales world. I'm part way through this book (about 1/2) and I like how Pink separates work into heuristic work and algorithmic. Personality types have to factor in, as well. I like the purpose discussions. You see this in Chip and Dan Heath's new book, too (Switch).

A sweeping indictment of work for performance/carrot is a bit strong, however.
Comment by David Zinger on January 5, 2010 at 3:56pm
Daniel Pink is very clever and knows how to position his work very well. He writes and markets well. I fully salute him for what he has done but a person who lives in a FREE AGENT NATION with A WHOLE NEW MIND also knows how to think for themselves.
Comment by Paul Hebert on January 5, 2010 at 3:48pm
Agree. There is some good - my concern was for those that would take this and run with it without thinking about how it fits with other ways of influencing behavior. The early buzz was this is th IT thing for motivation. Thanks for the comments!
Comment by David Zinger on January 5, 2010 at 3:40pm

I so much appreciate your thoughtful review of Pink's book. Often to "SELL" books there are strong statements made and people should always be cautious. I look forward to reading the book but I have also liked the idea: "It is good to have an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out."

I think sometimes incentives are a tangible expression of caring and that in many ways caring makes such a huge difference. We are very much open to social influence and you can't buy me with incentives and rewards but you can certainly acknowledge me and dare I say, "care for me."


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