Saturday, December 18, 2010

There's more to work than money, Dan Pink argues

In his latest book, Dan Pink suggests that money is not enough and motivation comes from within.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us 

I was blown away by Dan Pink's 2005 book, A Whole New Mind. His previous tome, Free Agent Nation, had been very good indeed, but the former speechwriter for Al Gore had made a quantum leap with his incisive look at the ways work can evolve into something much more than just labor. Recognizing the changing nature of global and local economies as positive drivers for the reconfiguration of our roles, the next step was — what? How would we make the transition from worker bees to empowered individuals?

Pink's next book offered some clues, but The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, a decidedly outré young-person's illustrated career guide done in the form of manga, a Japanese comics art form, was terrific and useful, though clearly a one-off. But now the wait is over: Drive, his new book, illuminates the path to unlocking the door to more meaningful work.

In this ideal companion piece to Seth Godin's recent Linchpin, Pink examines the ways we are motivated and finds that the most powerful ones come from within, and are more important to us than the material compensation we're given. His findings seem counterintuitive to those of us who have long accepted Pavlovian doctrine that we work mainly for "rewards'' like salary and other external reinforcements.

Pink presents a rather persuasive argument that we often labor and toil for inner satisfaction and engagement, or, as author Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, says, "flow,'' defined as one's positive, engaged submersion in an activity. If you're "in the zone,'' or describe an athlete as "unconscious'' when he is intently focusing on the game so that he appears to be in a trance-like state, it's the same deal. As he builds his case, Pink recounts the work of a variety of psychologists, academics and authors who've explored the phenomenon. It's not a new discovery, either. In 1949, Harry Harlow, a University of Wisconsin psychology professor, studied eight rhesus monkeys and found that they began playing with and solving the assigned puzzles irrespective of proffered rewards or biological imperatives like sex or food.

Pink writes of Harlow's discovery: "It suggested that our understanding of the gravitational pulls on our behavior was inadequate -- that what we thought were fixed laws had plenty of loopholes. Harlow emphasized the `strength and persistence' of the monkeys' drive to complete the puzzles. Then he noted: 'It would appear that this drive . . . may be as basic and strong as the [other] drives.

Furthermore, there is some reason to believe that [it] can be as efficient in facilitating learning.''

Harlow came to the conclusion that in order "to truly understand the human condition, we had to take account of this third drive,'' Pink writes.

Just as Godin does in Linchpin, Pink offers specific instructions and resources to facilitate this engagement in our own pursuits. It's not foolproof, nor is it risk-free, and many of us will reflexively reject the notion that working for a living (a/k/a salary and other monetary benefits) is not the most important force compelling us to work at our jobs, professions and careers. But harnessing the power of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic remuneration can be thoroughly satisfying and infinitely more rewarding.
Originally published in The Miami Herald

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