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Dan Pink discussed the sad state of employee incentives at TED

Fantastic video from Dan Pink about motivation in the workplace.  He examines the science of motivation, and knocks business for not adapting new methods of encouragement for the new, right brain type problems that face us.

This quote pretty much summarizes the talk:

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And what worries me, as we stand here in the rubble of the economic collapse,  is that too many organizations are making their decisions,  their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.

You can see a transcript of the talk by clicking on the ‘Transcript’ link on the right hand side of the video.  It’s actually pretty cool–clicking on a sentence and it updates the video to that part.  It’s not linkable, though–FAIL.

A few takeaways:

  • If/then rewards work well for simple tasks…they concentrate the mind and narrow your focus.
  • From a study by the FRB of Boston, “once [a] task called for ‘even rudimentary cognitive skill’ a larger reward ‘led to poorer performance'”
  • Management is not a tree, it’s a television set.  We invented it.
  • Atlassian used to give their engineers autonomy at least a few times a year to choose what they work on (FedEx Days), and now gives workers control over 20% of their time.  (Joel has something to say about Atlassian too.)
  • Autonomy, mastery, purpose are what people are looking for (once money is taken care of)
  • Results only work environment–people can work when they want, as long as they get their work done.  Here’s a stub wikipedia article about ROWE.
  • Encarta vs Wikipedia–who won?  The encyclopedia that leveraged people’s desires to work, not the one that paid them.

Now, my thoughts.

  • First, watch the whole video.  It’s only 18 minutes and is well worth your time if you are an employer or an employee (which covers most of us, I think).
  • ROWE reminds me a lot of college, especially higher level classes.  No one cares about when you do the work and I don’t remember being required to be at classes, but the results (passing a test, turning in a paper) were very important.
  • He only talks about the autonomy component of the new ‘motivation trilogy’ (autonomy, mastery, purpose).  I wish he’d chosen to talk about ‘purpose’ because to me that is the hardest bit–someone needs to do grungy jobs.  I guess granting workers autonomy is pretty revolutionary too.
  • “once money is taken care of” is a huge elephant in the room that he again does not address.  When the work is high value add, it makes sense to take money off the table (software developers are very lucky in this respect).  But what about a worker at Target, for example?  A Target store can’t afford to pay someone enough to take the money issue off the table, but can probably benefit from the ‘motivation trilogy’
  • The whole Encarta vs Wikipedia example that he gives is great, but he ignores the fact that Wikipedia has very few paid employees and that Wikipedia only won because of volunteer labor.  It’s not a solution that scales across a society.

Overall, in general, a thought provoking talk (expect nothing less from TED).  I would say that he is describing the future of work as consulting.  You are paid for what you know, the problems are fuzzy, answers are unexpected and at times unclear, and results arrived at matter far more than hours put in.

Is the future of work consulting?  If so, the business world is about to be upended, because, to borrow Dan’s phrase, “the operating system of business” isn’t designed to handle a workforce of consultants.  Heck, society isn’t either.

[tags]work, employment, gtd[/tags]