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One Man’s Review Behind The Wheel of "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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Originally posted on on Incentive Intelligence

15 Responses to “One Man’s Review Behind The Wheel of "Drive"”

  1. Kurt Nelson says:

    Well done my friend – you have nailed this again! I have just started reading the book (picked it up Sunday night) and have held off commenting on it until I’m done reading it. However, your analysis so far seems right on. While I agree (as I’ve said in earlier replies here and in other posts (www.thelanterngroup.wordpress.com) that companies should strive for more AMP, there is a need and benefit of having incentives and as you say, the research can prove that. I particularly like your thoughts on time constraint. I had not thought of that, but it is a key element of any incentive program.
    Well done!

  2. Paul Hebert says:

    Thanks Kurt. Time is rarely a friend in today’s business world. In theory I get the AMP thing – but in practice it’s application may be a bit limited.
    Love to hear your thoughts on the book when you get through reading! Happy New Year.

  3. Paul Beaumont - DipS, MCIM, Chartered Marketer (Student - MA Sales) says:

    You’re a demigod of practical application of theories in the real world!
    There are so many theories, theorems, strategies and stratagems relating to motivation; all of which have potential for practical application in industry. It’s simply impossible to find a ‘one size fits all solution’.
    Thankfully there are people like you in the world (probably just you) who can make sense of it all, for the greater benefit of the rest of us. Your salient critique resonates strongly with my own recommendations to industry re “The Factors of Sales Motivation” it’s all about striking the right balance, application of management intervention according to the person and the situation (every person and situation is uniquely different)
    Wasn’t it McGregor that created Theory X & Theory Y? (things we naturally like and dislike) Unfettered application of AMP ultimately forges a path for salespeople to do their own thing; dictating to industry what is and isn’t required. No thank you Mr Pink, I’ll Manage when I need to Manage, Lead when I need to Lead, I’ll also give Salespeople a bit of creative space, as and when I think it’s appropriate and necessary.
    Fiscal imperatives and time constraints will come back and haunt any Sales Manager that chooses to ignore them.
    …as for Wikipedia; try using any of that stuff in a serious academic environment and you’ll get a bullet between the eyes! It’s not recognised in academic circles because it is not peer reviewed. Anyone with an opinion can post an article, including those that are mostly motivated by ego needs (as you rightly mention, the same old suspects)

  4. Paul Hebert says:

    Thanks Paul! I may have to change my business cards now – hmmm…. demigod – is that capitalized?
    I think we’ve allowed managers to be lazy and the one size fits all approach makes it easy. Managers can say “hey, I’m just doing what the best-selling author says to do.”
    No substitute for thinking – yet we continue to use fast-food business advice and wonder why we have the problems with employee retention, engagement and motivation. This stuff isn’t easy – that’s why managers supposedly get paid more no?
    Thanks for the comments!

  5. Paul Hebert says:

    Not before you posted it! But I have now. I also participated in a web seminar with him a few weeks back. Same story in both.
    The callers on the show are fan-boys though…

  6. Scott Crandall says:

    Paul — Paul Beaumont nailed it: managers have to play the role demanded by the competence, reliabilty and confidence of our people. Manager to those who need to be managed, Coach to others, Driver to others, etc.
    No “style” or select range of activities is appropriate — except where it’s required. Leadership makes us think, judge, decide, act and, yes, sometimes we’ll make mistakes. But that’s what we’re paid for, and hopefully there are more good than bad decisions.
    And as for “demi-god”, I hope that’s not spelled C-H-U-M-P.

  7. Paul Hebert says:

    Thanks Scott – I think?

  8. Steve Murphy says:

    Nice distinction between AMP and getting things done. I have yet to read Pink’s new book but he’s always been good fodder to get people thinking — and, perhaps, deserves a bit of slack for “sloppy science.” Given the current economy is generating zero job growth, do we need to do the math on 70% of nothing?
    I love his quote for the sheer audacity …”organizations operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted in folklore more than science.” It reminds me of Alfie Kohn’s “Punished By Rewards” which blasted incentives not because they were ineffective but because they worked too well (be careful what you ask/plan for…).
    I’m struck with the thought that perhaps Pink’s willing trade incentive folklore for his own new age folklore. Experience has indeed taught me that it’s tricky — the incentive model may not be “pure science” but at least it’s measurable and increasingly transparent.
    Nice article. But, don’t be too harsh on those of us trying to run enlightenment camps! And add “Enlightenment, Incorporated.” to your reading list if you haven’t already.

  9. Elad Sherf says:

    Paul, Great post, Thanks for this. I have a few thoughts.
    First disclaimers:
    1. I haven’t yet read the book. It is on the top of the list and when I get to the states next week, I am planing to read it. I guess I will be able to better analyze your post (and the book) then.
    2. You know that I am not a big fan of: “It worked in the lab, it will work in real life” – http://tinyurl.com/yf6oczo, however, I do believe that there are a lot of managerial conventional wisdoms out there that need to be broken.
    3. I am sorry for the long comment..
    Having said that:
    Sometime, in order to make a point, you need to be a little extreme in the way you present it, otherwise, it is hard to get attention. Is the message the book tries to give that strong (“incentive-based performance programs should go the way of the Dodo.”) or is it just the way it is presented?
    While I am not sure that it is right in every circumstance and for every employee, I do believe that the Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose concepts are very important concepts for managers, no matter where or in what industry. They encapsulate the way people should treat their employees (http://tinyurl.com/ygbtd7d). I do believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Carrot and Stick approach (http://tinyurl.com/y9k8k4s) and that this offers a different kind of thinking. Is it fool proof? Of course not. But so is the Incentive based approach, which, as you know so well, could be used horribly in the wrong hands.
    Maybe there are places where this approach would not work. I believe, that at least parts of it, will work in almost in every situation, just as good as a well planned incentives program will. More than that, I think (as you mention in your last paragraph) that these are important tools that we should incorporate into out managerial thinking and together with well built incentive programs, create better workplaces.
    Regarding the time frame – Yes, time constraints are important and it takes more time to create a culture of AMP. However, maybe what we need in the business culture is some long term culture that look for internal results and not only short term gains. And we all know that the incentives (put in the wrong hands of not very smart people) created some short term success that led to long term destruction. I also can’t argue that some of the results company produce with these “autonomous times” are pretty amazing – even compared to the time constrained competitors around them.
    I also have a bit of a problem with the way you analyze the Wikipedia example… Is the point that we need to learn from that example is that EVERYBODY wants to participate in the Wikipedia project? I don’t think so – taking the numbers that are actively involved and trying to apply them to a different setting is just wrong. Because the point is that everybody wants to achieve their own type of mastery with a purpose they feel good about and that they can create amazing things alone without financial incentive. It does not say that everybody wants to do a specific type of work. So you would not look for one type of individual in Wall-Mart, you would like for a lot of different ones. The whole point of this theory is that everybody is different and the AMP allows each and every employee to express himself in a way he finds fit.
    I am really anxious to read the book and come back to this analysis. Thanks for writing this!

  10. Paul Hebert says:

    I’m happy you’re still out there reading Steve! Long-time no chat. Incentives aren’t easy – but I wouldn’t abandon them simply because it take a bit more time and education. Thanks for commenting!

  11. Paul Hebert says:

    Elad – thanks for a thoughtful comment.
    I understand the need to be at one end of a spectrum in order to generate any interest. Heck – I do that a lot here on this blog. My concern was that the average reader will take the concept of AMP and use it as the sole way to motivate and engage people – and that just won’t work.
    The book does take square aim at incentives – and does try to make the case that they are too difficult to do correctly and that the AMP model is “probably” better overall. He does have a special chapter on when they do work – but even that is coached in a way that would make the average reader want to stay away.
    I do believe in the BIG picture – and I’m talking BIG, AMP is a great construct for recognition and a great way to set the tone of an organization. Like I said – don’t ignore this option any more than you would ignore incentives. It is a good idea.
    In the book Wikipedia is presented as this huge number of people who give their time and engergy without compensation therefore, this is proof that workers’ mentality has changed. My only point is, if you run an organization understand that Wikipedia works because of the number of contributors (which is declining) – and that is because the huge number of people they have as a population to pull from. Most companies do not have that kind of scale. The example intimates that an organization is filled with people ready, willing and chomping at the bit (to use the horse examples from the book) to work for AMP – and I’m just not convinced that is a valid premise. There are many – but I don’t think Wikipedia is proof that fundamentally working and workers attitudes have changed that much.
    I’ll continue to say it – the book is good. Managers should understand the concept and apply it where it makes sense. It really isn’t anything new to management.
    BUT – do not forget that other tools are available and deftly applying them is effective as well.
    I’d love your take on it from a more objective standpoint than the fan-boys and girls on twitter. Check it out – do a search for @danielpink. You’d think the Beatles were coming to Shea Stadium again :)

  12. Lars Hansen says:

    I am currently in the process of reading “Drive”. I think it has some very interesting points, although I have some of the same concerns that you have. In particular, I think he exaggerates the nature of work; while work is getting ever more complex, I think that much work is still “algorithmic” in nature.
    That being said, I think you are defending incentives (+ targets and goals) too much.
    You say that incentives are difficult, and I agree with that. But I would go even further and say, that incentives ALWAYS leads to attempts at “gaming the system”. The goal tied to your incentive becomes a de-facto purpose. This is not to say, that the beneficial effects of incentives are not greater than the damaging effects in many cases. But using incentives always carries a price, and you almost always introduce unwanted side-effects.
    What we need is a management paradigm that abandons the irrational belief that incentives, goals and targets are inherently for the good. Instead, people need to start becoming aware of the incredibly damaging effects that introducing incentives can have in complex systems.
    As long as management has an irrational faith in incentives, they will not be able to use incentives effectively.

  13. Paul Hebert says:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree that there is still a lot of formulaic work – and portions of creative and innovative work that has formulaic parts – and that is one big reason I don’t want to abandon a tool such as incentives completely.
    Maybe I do defend incentives too much – I like incentives – and the results they can achieve. Promotions, raises, bonuses – all of which I’ve received and have benefited me and my family. That work I did also benefited the company I worked for.
    I don’t think I’m willing to say that incentives ALWAYS lead to gaming and that all of the side effects are negative.
    My goal at this site and in my company is to show how to design incentives and reward systems so that any negative effects are either minimized or eliminated.
    Incentives ARE good when properly designed and benefit both the individual and the company. Saying we need a “management paradigm that abandons the irrational belief that incentives, goals and targets are inherently for the good” – won’t, IMHO, fix anything.
    Whether we like it or not, we are all influence by, and make daily decisions based on, incentives – do this and get that in response. What I think most folks do is take the poorly designed incentives and use that as evidence that ALL incentives are bad. But that is as bad as taking one incentive program that works and saying all incentives are good.
    If I structure an incentive toward a goal the company wants and needs to remain competitive – and I keep the reward within reasonable bounds and make it contingent on ethical behaviors – is that a bad thing for anyone?
    Where incentives fail (almost always) is the award is outcome based and too rich for the effort. That is the problem we’ve been reading about in the Wall Street debacle. Any incentive where the reward is in the millions and billions of dollars you will get unethical behavior and have a negative side-effect. Structured correctly – that won’t happen.
    I understand the concern that many have about incentives – but the concern should be placed on the application – not the tool.
    I have said many, many times – a scalpel is a very potent tool in the hands of a skilled surgeon – but a weapon in the hands of a VP of Marketing. I know I wouldn’t want the VP operating on me but I don’t blame the scalpel for the botched surgery.
    Can you think of ANY application of incentives that makes sense or do you think all incentives are bad?

  14. Symbolist says:

    […] following a company riding the crest of one best seller advocating elimination of incentives (with bad rationale I might add…) is lemming behavior and further proof that just ‘cuz everyone is doing it doesn’t make […]

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