EQ Summit – Dan Pink on motivation

So the second main session of the day was Dan Pink talking motivation and I was really looking forward to it and it was brillaint too.  Why did I love it, because what he shares is grounded in research, that he shares, cites and clearly understands.

Our journey began with some humour and self depraction on how this session did a) include an american on a stage and b) was about motivation and yet we weren’t going to be ‘pumped up’ or hear about a heroic act or sporting feat.  Ii was going to be motivation from a nerdy angle and I like that.  As Mike Collins (@communitymike) would say, it is cool to be a geek with pom poms.

Then we went into the sort of knowledge that we have, impliciit explicit.  For me, there’s links into different types of memory here.  We have our ‘semanitc memory’ which is what Dan called our explicit knowledge and I say is our general storehouse of stuff (like the capital of France) that we just know.  Then there’s what Dan called the ‘implicit’ knowedge (and I call memory) that includes stuff you know that you don’t need to think about, that can be procedural (riding a bike, walking etc) or priming (stuff you think or believe)

It is this latter bit that Dan wanted us to explore as we have this ‘primed’ knowledge that when it comes to motivaiton the following is true:

Reward behaviour you want = more of it
Punish behavour you don’t = less of it

The key word here being ‘sometimes’.  In that sometimes this is true and in others it is not.

So, what does the research tell us.

Well, it says that when the task is simple and short term, then we are on to a winner.  You want people to stuff envelopes, pay them by the envelope and you are all good.

However, if the task is complex and/or long term then less so.  

Where is the research? Here https://www.bostonfed.org/economic/wp/wp2005/wp0511.pdf

The challenge facing workforces that do complex long term stuff then, is we are rewarding them using an approach that doesn’t apply.  The stuff that is simple and short term has been automated, it means that people need more of an expansive long term view, yet the reward system is mismatched.  The risk, we make sweeter carrots or more likely, sharper sticks to try and get what we want.

This links to Dan’s other point on Autonomy and how (in his view) management is an absolutely brillaint invention, it is again, out of date.  Management was build to get comliance and control, which works very well with simple short term tasks. What Dan was saying is that management as a tool kills engagement and cited some fab research to back it up that you can get here. http://www.gallup.com/poll/181289/majority-employees-not-engaged-despite-gains-2014.aspx

By giving people autonmony over some or all aspects of time, technique, team and task then you can grow engagement. Here’s another paper on this topic, this time a longtitudinal study http://leeds-faculty.colorado.edu/dahe7472/Lorinkova%202012.pdf