Daniel H. Pink's Blog
May 20, 2013
Today we begin a new series of short videos based on Chapter 7 of To Sell is Human, wherein I reveal the 6 successors to the elevator pitch.
Up first is The Question Pitch, which shows when you should use the interrogative to make your case (and when you should avoid it).
May 16, 2013
Just in time for graduation season, Johnny Bunko is here to remind you of the 6 essential lessons of any satisfying, productive career:
1. There is no plan.
Make decisions for fundamental, not instrumental, reasons.
2. Think strengths, not weaknesses.
What do you consistently do well? What gives you energy rather than drains it?
3. It’s not about you.
The most successful people improve their own lives by improving others’ lives.
4. Persistence trumps talent.
There are massive returns to doggedness.
5. Make excellent mistakes.
Commit errors from which the benefits of what you’ve learned exceed the costs of the screw-up.
6. Leave an imprint.
Recognize that your life isn’t infinite and that you should use your limited time here to do something that matters.
* * * *
May 9, 2013
Among the insights and provocations:
“Ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort in front of their eyes.”
“Is efficiency still more important than meaning? I think the answer is no.”
“By getting people to work harder, they actually got them to love what they’re doing to a higher degree.”
Watch and ponder.
May 8, 2013
The annotated map below has been lighting up the the social mediasphere in the last couple days — and for good reason. It forces those of us outside the circle (I’m looking at you, America) to ponder what the next century will really be like.
April 18, 2013
On the cover of Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence are a red light and a green light. The symbols nicely capture the central idea in this fascinating book (Buy it on Amazon, BN, 800CeoRead, or IndieBound), which debuts today.
Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins, who together run the Motivation Science Center at Columbia Business School, argue that humans beings have two broad approaches to the world. Some of us are red lights. We’re prevention-focused. Our overriding goals are to minimize losses, to feel secure, and to elude the looming possibility of failure. Some of us, meanwhile, are green lights. We’re promotion-focused. Our overriding goals are to maximize gains, to feel nurtured, and to take chances even if it means making big mistakes.
Red lights aren’t better than green lights — or vice versa. But knowing your own focus — and, equally important, knowing the focus of those you’re trying to lead, teach, or woo — can make a huge difference. (You can assess your own style here.)
Because I know Pink Blog readers love the sort of actionable social science found in this book, I figured out Heidi Halvorson’s and Higgins’s approaches (they’re both promotion-focused) and convinced them they had a lot to gain from answering some questions.
* * *
1. To what extent is being promotion-focused or prevention-focused innate? That is, are we born one way or the other? Do we ever change over time?
We aren’t born with a dominant focus, and we all use both promotion and prevention focus at least some of the time depending on the circumstances. But our upbringing at home and the culture surrounding us can make us more promotion or prevention-focused.
How were you raised? When you did something wrong, did your parents punish you with extra chores (prevention) or withdraw their attention and affection (promotion)? What culture do you live in? Americans grow up in a society that praises individual accomplishments and loves innovators, making us more promotion-focused (on average) than societies that emphasizes rule-following and self-sacrifice.
And yes, we can change over time because situations can put us in a promotion focus or a prevention focus, and when these situations are institutionalized, they can have stable long-term effects, as when people work in a company that itself has a promotion or prevention “culture.”
2. One of the big ideas in the book is the concept of “motivational fit.” Could you explain what it is and why it matters?
Motivational fit happens when your experience – the way you are working, the kind of task you are working on, or the feedback you receive – sustains or enhances your motivation. Promotion motivation feels like eagerness, a desire to really go for it. Being optimistic, working quickly and creatively, making choices based on the pros of each option, and being offered incentives framed in terms of potential gains all provide a motivational fit for someone who is promotion-focused.
Prevention motivation, on the other hand, feels like vigilance – being careful and on the look-out for problems. Being a realist (or even a skeptic), working slowly and accurately, making choices based on the cons of each option, and being offered the incentive to avoid losses, all create fit for prevention.
The benefits of motivational fit, not only for individuals’ performance and success but also for influencing others (as parents, managers, coaches, etc.), are really remarkable. Studies show that people value what they are doing (or what you are selling) more, find feedback more believable and persuasive, and are more engaged and effective when they experience fit.
3. Does that mean that on the job managers should give prevention-minded employees and promotion-minded employees different types of feedback?
Absolutely. Promotion-focused people thrive on optimism, so it’s really important to keep them feeling positive even when you are delivering bad news. They need to learn from their mistakes, but not dwell on them for too long. They also respond well to praise, and work best when they feel that they are making real progress toward their goal.
Prevention-focused people, on the other hand, aren’t optimists. (At least, the successful ones aren’t.) They are what psychologists call “defensive pessimists.” It’s not that they believe they will fail – that’s just plain pessimism, and that doesn’t work for anyone. It’s that they believe they might fail, if they don’t work hard and take the necessary steps to keep from getting derailed. This kind of thinking keeps them vigilant, and keeps their motivational machine humming.
Prevention-focused people are often visibly uncomfortable with too much optimism or praise – on an often unconscious level, they realize that having a sunny outlook would make them lower their guard, and that their work would suffer as a result. So avoid effusive praise with the prevention-focused – instead, give them honest, realistic feedback about how they might improve.
4. You’ve got a whole chapter on parenting. But give us a preview. Should parents be promotion-focused? Prevention-focused? Neither? Both?
This is a great question, because it speaks to the whole “which is better?” issue that comes up all the time, not only for parenting but for work and life in general. We know from nearly two decades of research now that people can live successful, satisfying lives with either dominant focus. They will have different strengths – and different weaknesses – but overall, one way of living and working isn’t “better” than the other.
That said, there is good reason to believe, especially from research on teamwork, that promotion and prevention can work together well and having strengths in both is desirable – because ultimately, we all want to be able to advance and achieve while also staying safe and secure. Otherwise, you may find that you live a life of adventure but never remember to pay your bills and floss, or that you have perfect credit and teeth, but never seem to have any fun.
So as a parent, your best bet is to use both promotion and prevention-focused ways of reinforcing and discouraging behavior to some extent. But just as important, you want to teach your children when it’s best to be promotion-focused (it’s time to be open and creative) or prevention-focused (it’s time to be careful and analytical), and how to work with that focus to reach their goals.
5. We’ve been talking a lot about selling around here recently. Can you give an example of how you might sell the same product differently to a prevention-focused prospect versus a promotion-focused one?
The second half of the book is devoted to describing ways of creating motivational fit in order to – as you might say – move people. The gist is that you want to pitch your product or idea in terms of gains, advancements, and rewards to a promotion audience, but pitch it in terms of losses avoided, safety, and reliability for a prevention audience. If you are selling toothpaste, for instance, you want to emphasize the white teeth and beautiful smile for promotion, and the anti-cavity protection for prevention.
April 11, 2013
Office Hours — our super-cool, call-in, radio-ish program — has been on hiatus for a few months. But we’re coming back with a great show to kick off our 2013 season.
On Friday April 12, 2013 at 2:30pm EDT, I’ll be talking with Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of blockbuster books, Made to Stick, Switch, and their newest bestseller, Decisive, which is all about how to make better decisions. You can listen live — and ask the Heath brothers anything you want — by dialing this number (206-402-0100) and entering this passcode (203373#).
If you’re new to the Pink Blog and don’t know what Office Hours is, here’s a quick reminder: About once a month, I’ve been opening the phone lines and a special guest and I take your questions about work, business, technology, personal productivity, and anything else you want to discuss. Think of it as “Car Talk” . . . for the human engine. The program is free of charge and free of advertising. You can find more information on the Office Hours page and download previous episodes on iTunes. (This episode, too, will be posted on iTunes next week.)
Office Hours with Chip Heath and Dan Heath
April 12, 2:30pm EDT
Phone number: 206-402-0100
April 9, 2013
Every so often a book comes along that changes the way you see the world. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, which comes out today, is one of those books.
In 305 insightful pages, Wharton professor Adam Grant recasts our notions of what it takes to succeed. Talent is a factor, of course. Effort, persistence, and drive often matter even more. But Grant identifies a third, previously invisible, element: A person’s “reciprocity style.”
In our professional lives, he says, we tend to be either givers, takers, or matchers. Most of us are matchers. We’re willing to give — to help others — but we expect something in return. Matchers live in the world of reciprocity, tit-for-tat, and Even Steven. A few of us, meanwhile, are takers. Our style is to get more than we give. (Spoiler alert: Research shows that we hate takers and root for them to fail.) And a few of us are givers. We give more than we get — with no expectation of return.
Grant has found that the people who occupy the bottom of the success ladder are givers — in part because they’re “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” So who occupies the top?
It’s the givers once again.
Grant’s book (Buy it at Amazon, BN.com, or IndieBound) looks at the evidence for this surprising finding and then offers a path for how to become the sort of giver who flourishes without being fleeced.
Because I like this book so much, and because I’ve written about some of Grant’s other research in both Drive and To Sell is Human, I asked him to answer a few questions for Pink Blog readers. Since Grant himself is a giver of epic proportions, he obliged.
* * *
1. One concern that some people have about being givers is that they’ll be taken advantage of or that they’ll become poster children for the old adage, “No good deed goes unpunished.” What are a few ways that successful givers avoid these traps?
One powerful strategy is to assess the generosity of the people you’re helping. If they’ve consistently operated selfishly, like takers, it may be wise to shift from giving to matching. Instead of assisting them without any strings attached, help them on the condition that they pay it back to you—or pay it forward to benefit someone else. A second approach is to set clear boundaries for helping time versus personal productivity. For example, there’s a Fortune 500 software company that has encouraged engineers to set “quiet time” three mornings a week from 9am until noon to make sure that constant interruptions don’t interfere with their progress. A third option is to develop giving networks, bringing together groups of people to make and grant requests in a meeting or on a listserv. By making giving visible, taking is discouraged, and a marketplace often emerges that connects people with those who are best suited to help them. For a powerful example, see the Reciprocity Ring by Humax Networks.
2. Many of us know about the strength of weak ties from Mark Granovetter’s landmark work. But you introduce the idea of “dormant ties,” which I found quite compelling. Can you explain what dormant ties are and why they matter to givers?
Dormant ties are connections to people you used to know, but have fallen out of touch for several years or more. In a series of fascinating studies, Daniel Levin, Jorge Walter, and Keith Murnighan have shown that dormant ties actually provide more valuable advice than current ties. Dormant ties tend to be more helpful than weak ties, because there’s a residue of trust and familiarity that makes it easier to reach out. But they also offer more novel information than strong ties, as they’ve encountered new people and ideas in the time since you last connected. From my perspective, givers have the most to gain from reactivating dormant ties, as they’ve built up a track record of generosity. If they can overcome the reluctance to seek help, there’s a reservoir of goodwill waiting to be accessed.
3. Okay, let me just get this out of the way. People named Dennis are almost twice as likely to become dentists as people with comparably popular names. What the heck is going on here and why should we care?
The evidence here is very controversial, but it does turn out that we’re surprisingly drawn to careers—and people, places, and products—that remind us of our own names. If your name is Dennis or Denise, when you first learn about dentists, you might have a slightly more positive feeling because it taps into something familiar that’s part of your identity. Research by Brett Pelham and his colleagues suggests that this is true for a wide range of names, especially if our names are rare and we identify strongly with them. The self-similarity effect extends to helping: we’re more likely to give time and money to people who remind us of ourselves. I go into more detail in chapter 8 of the book, and I think we should care for two reasons. First, subtle factors can shape where we direct our giving, and we need to be cautious about helping for the wrong reasons. Second, if we want to convince other people to be more generous, we can often boost giving by showing them how they share uncommon commonalities with others in need.
4. Now let me toss an odd word at you: Karma. Does your work offer some empirical support for the mystical idea, often found in the religions of South Asia, that our actions have repercussions – good or bad – that extend far beyond the present moment into the rest of our lives?
This is a really interesting way of framing my work; I do think there’s a case to be made for the science behind karma. Rather attributing it to mystical forces, I believe matchers are behind many of the karmic moments in life. If you’re a matcher, you tend to believe strongly in a just world: you think what goes around ought to come around. This means that you’re motivated to punish takers for self-serving actions, and you’re equally driven to reward givers for acting generously. Studies led by Robb Willer at Stanford suggest that people do this in part through “prosocial gossip”—spreading negative reputational information about takers while boosting the status of givers.
5. Most people, you’ve found, are matchers – and that presumably includes most people reading this interview. What is one step that Pink Blog readers can take today to move a little more in the direction of becoming givers?
I think changing your style starts with increasing self-awareness: do other people see you as a giver, taker, or matcher? If you visit www.giveandtake.com, there are free assessments where you can rate yourself and ask other people to evaluate you anonymously. If you decide to shift in the giver direction, my favorite strategy is what one of America’s top networkers calls the five-minute favor. The key is to look for ways to help others that are relatively low-cost to you. It might be making an introduction between two people who could benefit from knowing each other, sharing an interesting article, or offering to provide advice or feedback. If you choose a form of helping that you find enjoyable and meaningful, it might even boost your mood and energy.
April 8, 2013
Phil Rosenthal has a great column in the Sunday Chicago Tribune arguing that one of the late Roger Ebert’s greatest legacies is as a businessman and pioneer of the “brand called you.” You should read Rosenthal’s entire piece, but here’s a summary of the lessons he’s distilled from Ebert’s life.
1. Know your identity. Even after he became famous, Ebert remained in Chicago (rather than Hollywood) and continued working as a journalist.
2. Know your consumers. Ebert “knew it was impossible to attract a mass audience if you are trying too hard to impress a niche.”
3. Own your work. Ebert retained the rights to what he produced.
4. Embrace rivalry. Working with (and against) Gene Siskel sharpened his craft.
5. Embrace the future. “The fact that Ebert had more than 800,000 Twitter followers at the time of his death was mentioned before his Pulitzer in some obituaries.”
6. Be transparent. When Ebert became seriously ill, “he was forthright and up front about his condition.”
7. Be a mentor. He nurtured other writers, especially fellow film critics.
8. Be great. “Being the best is no guarantee of success, but it helps.”
(HT: Rosemary Wisnosky)
March 25, 2013
There’s lots to dislike about the modern workplace. Dunderheaded managers. Snarls of bureaucracy. And all those endless meetings. But Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan say all those threats to our sanity might actually be helpful — the equivalent of sheep in wolves’ clothing.
In their provocative and endlessly interesting new book, The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office (Buy it at Amazon, BN, or IndieBound) make a spirited case for the centrality of organizations in spite of (sometimes because of) their irritations. These annoyances, they explain, are tradeoffs necessary to get work done. Without them, even greater chaos and dysfunctions would ensue. And so rather than complain, we’d be better off simply understanding the trade-offs and seeing the organizational glass as half-full
Because I thought Pink Blog readers would find the book intriguing, I asked Fisman (he teaches at Columbia) and Sullivan (he’s editorial director of Harvard Business Review Press) to answer some questions.
* * *
In the book, you make a startling claim: That the dysfunctions of the modern workplace – the daily irritations aired at the water cooler and spoofed in Dilbert or Office Space – are actually an inherent part of the modern business organization’s success. Could you say something to make me feel better about this?
It can certainly feel demoralizing to have the tradeoffs that come with organizing laid out quite so starkly. But really, we’ve all experienced these firsthand, so in some sense we’re not telling you anything you didn’t already know. To the extent that making people aware of these tradeoffs has the effect of crushing their hopes of finding “5 Simple Steps to Ending Bureaucracy” or “Innovation, the Easy Way,” it should make you feel better, at least in the long run. Instead of chasing the latest fad, you can hunker down and actually get to thinking through when the benefits of organizational change outweigh their costs.
Organizational diagnosis can also help to make you feel better about the way things are right now: it’s made both of us feel a lot more Zen about the rules, constraints, and irritants now that we better appreciate why they’re there (part of what makes them irritating, after all, is their seeming pointlessness). As an exercise, take a minute and imagine how much worse things could be if they disappeared.
Here’s another counter-intuitive idea I encountered in your book: Jobs should be designed so as to minimize misaligned incentives. That seems to me to be the opposite of how we conventionally approach the issue of motivation, which is to find the right incentives to get a particular job done. What’s going on here?
The view that you just need to get incentives right starts from the faulty premise that all jobs – and the tasks they involve – are created equal in their potential for incentive-based motivation. Most jobs involve multiple components, forcing employees to multitask. Deciding how to bundle the responsibilities under any given job description should come before thinking about how to provide incentives to ensure those jobs get done.
It’s easy to see this if you consider really bad examples of task combinations, like assigning bank loan officers both the tasks of selling loans and approving them. A mortgage salesman can and should be paid on commission to ensure he works hard to generate business. But per-loan compensation for someone who is meant to ensure that mortgages don’t turn sour years down the road is a bad idea (although one that was widely practiced during the subprime boom that preceded the subprime crisis). So a well-designed organization will split up these two tasks, allowing incentives work their magic, where appropriate.
Making sure work gets done relies on an effective combination of picking workers who fit with the job, putting them in the right workplace environment (hello, Google massage parlor), designing the job well, and finally providing appropriate incentives. The last of these is but one part of a much larger puzzle.
In the chapter called “A Theory of Necessary Employee Disillusionment,” you write that in a functioning organization, the best employees will also be the most frustrated and disgruntled employees. How does that make sense for the health of an organization?
Organizations strive to hire the best people they can, the ones who are most eager to do their jobs. But not every employee will be self-motivated, and even those who are will have aspects of their job they’d prefer to avoid now and then. So organizations set up incentives and rewards, they monitor, and they measure what gets done. Ironically, those same incentives and measurement systems run the risk of driving your best workers—the ones who see their jobs as avocations and not just a way to mark time and get a paycheck—to become the most frustrated by the lack of clear connection between management measures and job performance.
This logic, taken to an extreme, could suggest that you know the org is working when your best employees are disgruntled and disillusioned. This is most emphatically not what we’re suggesting.
Instead, we see this as a warning to those captivated by the idea of an organization based on high-powered incentives and other rational economic principles. You need to balance incentives with an acknowledgment of the power of intrinsic motivation – and the costs of alienating your brightest and best-motivated employees. But it’s also a warning to employees that balancing incentives with freedom to take initiative is extraordinarily hard—and yet is a necessary cost of organizing.
Smart leaders realize they need to balance performance measures of performance and systems to motivate employees with some human kindness. And the smart employee is the one who recognizes that the checks and balances placed on their well-meaning initiative are a necessary cost of organizing.
What is one idea you’ve learned in your research that Pink Blog readers could put to work today in their careers?
This really builds on our answer to the third question. When you’re frustrated with your org, it’s awfully tempting to buy a sledge hammer and just knocking stuff down. And it would be fun too! But pretty soon, you’d take out some plumbing or a load-bearing wall and the whole enterprise would come crashing down. If you can remember that, as you sit in your cubicle or office or in your next meeting, the dysfunction starts to make sense. That’s a pretty good rule for employees and managers alike.
March 9, 2013
Not sure how I missed this until now — but if you loved Alec Baldwin’s cameo in Glengarry Glen Ross (NSFW), which I write about in To Sell is Human (SFW), you’ll love this 4-minute Saturday Night Live clip: