The Mismatch Between Science & Business

Daniel Pink

The Surprising Science on Motivation

The Candle Problem
- overcome functional fixedness: you look at the box and see it only as a receptacle for the tacks, but it can also have another function as a platform for the candle

Power of Incentives
- timed on how long it took to solve this problem with incentives, it took on average 3 minutes longer with incentives
- Incentives dull thinking and blocks creativity
- This has been replicated over and over that “If you do this you get that” work in some circumstances but for A LOT of tasks it either doesn’t work or often makes it worse.
- This is one of the most robust findings in social science, and also one of the most ignored.

Our business operating systems; the set of assumptions and protocols beneath our business systems; how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources, is built entirely around these extrinsic motivators, around carrots & sticks.
This was fine for many types of 20th century tasks;
but for 21st century tasks, mechanistic, reward & punishment approach doesn’t work, often doesn’t work, and often does harm.

Repeat experiment with the tacks out of the box; incentivized group does better.

If then rewards work really well for the sorts of tasks where there’s a simple set of rules, and a clear destination to go to. Rewards by their nature Narrow our focus, concentrate the mind, which is why they work in certain cases really well.

But for real problems, you don’t want to be narrow minded, you want to looking for the solution on the peripherally around. The reward mechanism will narrow our focus and restrict our possibilities.

Workers are now doing more complex work requiring peripheral thinking, since the left brain linear work has become easy to outsource or automate.
What really matters are the more right brain, creative, conceptual kinds of abilities.

Think about your own work. Are the problems that you face, or the problems you talk about; those kinds of problems:
Do they have a clear set of rules? Do they have a single solution? No
The rules are misdefined. The solution, if it exists at all, is surprising, and non-obvious. Everyone is dealing with their own version of the candle problem.
And for candle problems of any kind, in any field, the IF – THEN rewards, the things around which we build so many of our businesses: DON’T WORK.

This is not a feeling; this is not a philosophy; this is a fact.

“As long as the task involves only mechanical skill, bonuses work as they would be expected. The higher the pay, the better the performance.”

But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward “led to poorer performance.”

“Higher incentives led to worse performance.”

“We find that financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

To many organizations are making their decisions; their policy about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.

If we really want to high performance, the solution is NOT TO DO MORE OF THE WRONG THINGS; to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick.

We need a whole new approach. Scientists have studied motivation and given us this approach. It is an approach based much more around instrinsic motivation, around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they are interesting, because they are part of something important.

This new operating system for our businesses revolves around 3 elements:

- the urge to direct our own lives

- the desire to get better and better at something that matters.

- the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

Management is something that was invented. It is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, self direction works better.

Example: Atlassian - A few times a year they tell their engineers work on anything you want as long as it’s not part of your regular job. This one day of intense autonomy has produced a whole array of new software fixes that may not have existed. It has worked so well they’ve taken to the next level with 20% time. Also done at google, where about half of new products originate from 20% time.

ROWE – Results Only Work Environment
In a ROWE people don’t have schedules. They show up when they want. They don’t have to be in the office at a certain time, or any time. They just have to get their work done. How they do it, when they do it, where they do it – is totally up to them. Meetings in these types of environments, are optional.
What happens in these types of environments:
- productivity goes up
- worker engagement goes up
- worker satisfaction goes up
- turnover goes down

Microsoft started Encarta – extrinsic motivator
Few years later another encyclopedia got started; no incentives. Intrinsic motivator.

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

Here’s what science knows:

Those 20th century rewards, those motivators we think are a natural part of business do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.

Those if then rewards, often destroy creativity.

The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen instrinsic drive, that drive to do things for their own sake; the drive to do things because they matter;

We already know this; the science confirms what we know
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 those candle problems, and maybe we can change the world.