As one of the best-selling nonfiction authors of the past decade, DANIEL PINK is one speaker we’re all excited to see at the 2017 ISPA Conference & Expo. His five books on work, business, and behavior give incredible insight into human nature and work culture, and his passion for his research and subject is sure to have you on the edge of your seat—just ask one of the 19 million viewers of his TED Talk on the science of motivation, which is one of the top ten most watched of all time!
For this month’s Ask the Expert, we dug a little deeper into how Pink’s most forward-thinking ideas have stood the test of the fast-paced times we now live in and how those ideas will benefit the leaders in our industry.
Pulse: In your book A Whole New Mind, you explain why the future is in the hands of the right brain, creative thinkers. That book was published 12 years ago. Do right brain thinkers still hold the keys to the kingdom?
Pink: Pretty much. In that book, I argued that certain kinds of skills — linear, SAT, spreadsheet skills — were still necessary but no longer sufficient. They’ve become easy to outsource to low-wage countries and easy to automate. As a result, artistic, empathic, inventive skills were becoming the ones that mattered most. That’s still true. But what I didn’t expect was how quickly artificial intelligence was going to progress — self-driving cars, facial recognition, and beyond. Artificial intelligence, I think, will begin nibbling away at some right-brain skills, too. I don’t think that will happen all that much in the next, say, 10 years. But in the next 20 years, all bets are off.
P: Do you think people have gotten better at using both sides of the brain as a result of the design-driven, storytelling world we now live in?
DP: In many ways. Think about design. So many people in so many professions, now have at least a partial role in, say, designing a website or a social media profile or presentation. It doesn’t mean that everyone is great at it, but that’s one skill that’s seeping into many jobs, even those that are not nominally “creative.” The same is becoming equally true for abilities like storytelling, composition, and empathy. They’ve become a larger component of many jobs.
P: In Drive, you discuss the fact that people aren’t driven to work harder by monetary rewards, especially when creativity and decision-making skills are part of the work. Is this also a result of our shift in society towards the Conceptual Age?
DP: First, it’s important to understand what the research says. It doesn’t say that people aren’t motivated by money. Money is a motivator. It just doesn’t work the way many people expect. Here’s what the science tells us: There’s a certain kind of reward that I call an “if-then” reward — as in “If you do this, then you get that.” If-then rewards are extremely effective for simple, routine, algorithmic tasks — processing paper, turning the same screw the same way on an assembly line. These kinds of rewards get us to focus narrowly, which for this kind of work, is a plus. However, the same body of research tells us that if-then rewards are far less effective for creative, conceptual work. Why? If-then rewards are narrow, but for these tasks we want an expanded perspective, a wider look. The big problem is that
organizations tend to use if-then rewards for everything, rather than for the one category of tasks where they actually work.
P: Why does the concept of human motivation interest you so much?
DP: It’s definitely interesting to try to understand what people
do. But why they do it takes the inquiry to a deeper and even
more fascinating level.
P: If you line up your books on a shelf, it seems like you have quiet the variety of interests. What story do you think your collective works tell?
DP: I don’t think there’s a single story, but there is a common theme. All the books have to do with work. I’ve always been fascinated by work: what people do, why they do it, how they collaborate with others, what work means to them. We spend half our waking hours at work, which makes it an incredible platform for understanding the human condition.
P: Which of your books was the most interesting to research and write?
DP: That’s like asking which of my three children is my favorite! At the moment, I’m enamored of my newest book, which will be out in January. It’s called WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
P: What do you hope ISPA members gain from your
DP: A couple of big ideas to understand their world and some specific takeaways for running their businesses.