Thursday, January 14, 2010

Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation - TEDTalks

A friend of mine recommended this video and I liked it so much I shared it immediately with other friends. As some of them were very busy to watch the whole thing, they asked for a summary. And since the topic was still active on my mind, I decided to do it for them and later I decided to make it available to everybody on this blog.

I have to emphasize that this text is based entirely and solely on this great talk. It is a mere attempt to provide a text version and summarize the main ideas, and I have to say it doesn't come close to the quality of the talk or the performance of the speaker.

A case for rethinking how we run our businesses.

Scientists of human behavior questioned the power of incentives. These contingent motivators: If-you-do-this then you-get-that, work in some circumstances but for a lot of tasks they actually either don't work or often do harm. This is one of the most robust findings in social science and also one of the most ignored.

There's a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

Our business operating systems, the set of assumptions and protocols beneath our businesses, how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources. It's built entirely on these extrinsic motivators. Around carrots and sticks. This is actually fine for many 20th century's tasks. But for 21st century's tasks, that mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach often doesn't work, and often does harm.

If-then rewards work really well for unsophisticated tasks, where there's a simple set of rules and a clear destination. Rewards by their very nature, narrow our focus. Concentrate the mind. That's why they work in so many cases. But for real problems, we don't want to narrow our focus and restrict our possibilities. For example, to overcome what is called functional fixedness.

Routine, rule-based, left-brained work, certain kinds of accounting, certain kinds of computer programming has become fairly easy to outsource, fairly easy to automate. Software can do it faster, low-cost providers around the world can do it cheaper. So what really matters, are the more right-brained, creative, conceptual kinds of abilities.

Think about your work. Are the problems you face the kind of problems with a clear set of rules and a single solution? No. The rules are mystifying. The solution, if it exists at all, is surprising and not obvious. If-then rewards, don't work in that case. This is not a feeling. This is not a philosophy. This is a fact, a true fact.

Too many organization are making their decisions, their policies about talents and people., based on assumptions that are out-dated, unexamined and rooted more in folklore than in science. If we really want high performance on the definitional tasks of the 21st century the solution is not to do more of the wrong thing: to entice people with the sweet carrot or threaten them with the sharper stick. We need a whole new approach.

The good news about all this is that the scientists who've been studying human motivation have given us this new approach. It's an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they're interesting, because they're part of something important.

That new operating system for our businesses revolves around 3 elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives.
Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Today, we're going to talk only about autonomy.

In the 20th century, we came up with this idea about management. Management didn't emanate from nature, it's like: it's not a tree, it's a television set. Somebody invented it. And it doesn't mean it's going to work forever. Traditional notions of management is great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, self-direction works better.

Let me give you an example of some kinds of radical notions of self-directions. You don't see a lot of it, but you see the first stirrings of something really interesting. Because what it means is: paying people adequately and fairly, absolutely, getting the issue of money out of the table, and then giving people much of autonomy. The 20% time, done famously at Google, where engineers can work 20% of their time on anything they want. They have autonomy over their time, their tasks, their teams, their techniques: radical amounts of autonomy. And at Google, as many of you know, about half the new products in a typical years are burst during that 20% time like: Gmail, Orkut and News.

Another more radical example of autonomy: something called the results only work environment or ROWE. In a ROWE people don't have schedules. They show up when they want, they don't have to be at the office at a certain time or any time. They just have to get the work done. How they do it, when they do it, where they do it is totally up to them. Meetings in these kinds of environments are optional. What happens? almost across the board: productivity goes up, worker-enga worker-satis turn-over goes down.

Autonomy, master, and purpose. These are the building blocks of a new way of doing things.

Now, some of you might look at this and say: mmm, that sounds nice but it's Utopian. And I say nope. I have proof. In mid 1990's Microsoft started an encyclopedia called Encarta. They deployed all the right incentives. They payed professionals to write and edit thousands of articles. Well compensated managers oversaw the whole thing to make sure it came on-budget and on-time. Few years later, a new encyclopedia get started. A different model. Do it for fun. No one gets payed a cent, or a euro or a yen. Do it because you like to do it. Now if you had, just 10 years ago, if you had gone to an economist, any where, and said: hey, I have these 2 different models for creating an encyclopedia, if they went head to head, who'd win? 10 years ago, you couldn't not find a single sober economist on planet earth who'd predicted the Wikipedia model.

Intrinsic motivators vs. extrinsic motivators. Autonomy, mastery and purpose vs. carrots and sticks. And who wins?

To wrap-up (17:20)

There's a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And here's what science knows:
1) Those 20th century's rewards, those motivators, we think are the natural part of business: Do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.
2) Those if-then rewards, often destroy creativity.
3) The secret to high performance isn't rewards and punishments, but this unseen intrinsic drive. The drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things because they matter.

And here's the best part. We already know this. The science confirms what we know in our hearts. So, if we repair this mismatch between what science knows and what business does. If we bring our notions of motivation into the 21st century. If we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology of carrots and sticks, we can strengthen our businesses, we can solve a lot of our real problems and maybe, maybe we can change the world.

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