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Dan Pink: Rethinking the ideology of carrots and sticks

Below is a very interesting TED talk by my buddy Daniel Pink. In December Dan has a new book coming out called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In this TED talk from the summer in Oxford, Dan overviews some of the key ideas in the new book. This talk will make you (re-)think about work, management, and what motivates you — and those you work with — to excel. Watch it below.

We don't need sweeter carrots and sharper sticks, Dan says. We need a whole new approach, an approach that puts more stock in intrinsic motivation. Dan identifies three elements that comprise a new way of thinking about management:

Autonomy: The urge to direct our own lives.
Mastery: The desire to get better at something that matters.
Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.


Traditional ideas about management are great, Dan says, "if you want compliance; but for engagement, self-direction works best." Dan focuses here only on Autonomy and gives a few good examples, and touches on the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). People working under a ROWE system do not have fixed schedules per se and can work at any time. They can show up when they want, essentially. This would not work for all professions due to fixed schedules (teachers and airline pilots come to mind), but it works for a lot of folks in design and software and other creative fields.


The last time I had a real job was about six years ago in Cupertino, California. Many of the people I worked with (in the company and out) were working under a sort of quasi ROWE system, depending on their manager. In my case, my schedule was largely up to me, but still I worked long hours and got in early and left late. It was great, however, as I felt in control. It almost did not feel like work, yet I was more productive and worked more than when I was employed in Japan. But I had freedom to go to the gym anytime, take lunch anytime, work at home if there were no meetings that day, etc.

When I worked at Sumitomo in Japan through most of the '90s, I experienced the opposite spirit of ROWE. Results were important, but just as important — and sometimes more important — was just to be there in the office and be seen as a good member of the team. Sometimes the motivation in Japan is a different kind of carrot and stick, the stick is really the fear of being an outsider or being labeled as one. Things are changing in Japan, but the idea of giving workers loads of freedom with their schedules is something that is hard for a lot of managers and firms to do (some in software/IT here seem to be a bit more flexible). ROWE is not a panacea, but I would like to see at least the spirit of it applied more. Companies need to lighten up and give more room for their talent to be creative.

Letting go: A new management style?
A key tenet of Zen is that we must learn to let go of things (the past and the future, for example). One of the hardest things for managers to do is unclench their hands from the many things they think they control, like people's time. Control over people — assuming we actually have it — can itself become an object of attachment for us. Sometimes "control" is just a feeling that we have in management that people are in line and doing what they are suppose to, and if they are, we worry about them not doing so in future.

Yet a lot of stress for managers is over things they can not control and should not need to worry about. What if we just held people accountable for results? Managers could become more of a coach and less of a referee, more of a mentor and less of a taskmaster. Letting go is not only good for managers' personal well-being and productivity, it also fosters the type of environment that allows workers to use intrinsic motivation rather than external motivation. In the end, doesn't the company benefit from letting go just a bit?

(Dan's point about intrinsic motivation reminded me of Lesson number 4 from his last book, Johhny Bunko. I made a Slideshare book review presentation about the book last year. Below is just the 4th Lesson.)

• A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
•The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need


Randy Ksar

Love Dan's talk. Thanks for sharing the video from Ted. Innovation is key at a company. I remember at Yahoo! they had "hack days" which is similar to Fedex days. The key was those hacks that got voted on by the exec. staff and public to be deemed best hacks (that were marketable) were actually implemented. If they weren't, the hack wouldn't gain any exposure for the employee. So make sure if you do a similar type of campaign at your company for employees that their work gets recognition.


Dave Lewis

Garr, instead of "compliance" above, you mean "engagement" (just before you reference ROWE). "Traditional management is great if you want compliance; but for engagement, self-direction works best." (Fingers say funny things on a keyboard when given too much autonomy!)

Presentations Training

Great article about motivation. Even when things seem good, we still have something greater to achieve. I believe that similar to a good fitness- you have to change up your mindset like you do your workout so that you approach your work and goals in a new and exciting way. Its the difference between being a 1 hit wonder to a 45yrld Pop Icon. Change is good and it starts from within.

Jan Schultink

Random comments:

ROWE will only work in certain professions. Academia, design, engineering. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things/tasks/jobs that need to be done that does not fit this model. Unfortunately....

ROWE also depends on the type of people. It reminds me of the good old McKinsey skill/will matrix:

- Low skill/low will: "direct"
- Low skill/high will: "coach"
- High skill/low will: "motivate"
- High skill/high will: "delegate" (= ROWE)

(I might have forgotten the exact naming of the boxes)

John Zimmer


Thank you for posting the talk by Dan Pink. It is great on a number of levels.

I used the TED video this past weekend in a class that I taught the Executive MBA students on effective public speaking and presentation skills. It offers some excellent examples of how to keep your audience's attention by being unexpected (as in one of the Heaths' indicia of SUCCESs in "Made to Stick").

I showed my students two excerpts: the beginning, where Pink opens his talks by make a "confession" about going to law school (the light-hearted example); and from around 4:00 until around 11:00 where he shows that greater financial incentives will not necessarily lead to quicker resolution of problems requiring creative thinking (the profound example). It resonated with the students.

Thanks for the article.


John Zimmer

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