Daniel Pink has been one of the presiding spirits of Lateral Action from day one.
Specifically, his book A Whole New Mind provided inspiration for the very first article we published – Innovate or Die: Why Creativity Is Economic Priority Number One – and more recently I wrote about his TED Talk, in Why Rewards Don’t Work.
But more generally, Dan’s writings have been a big influence on our thinking as we’ve developed the site. He is one of the most articulate advocates of the new ways of thinking, communicating, working and doing business that are essential for success in the creative economy.
His first book, Free Agent Nation, described the shift from corporate team allegiances to ‘the future of working for yourself’, as micropreneurs, consultants and innovative small businesses. (It also featured a profile of a certain Brian Clark, in his pre-Copyblogger and Lateral Action days.)
In A Whole New Mind he argued that the new reality of work requires a change of mindset – away from the logical, ‘left-brain’ abilities of 20th century knowledge workers, towards more holistic and creative ‘right brain’ talents of 21st century creative workers.
The Adventures of Johnny Bunko presented radical career advice in a radically different format – a comic book in the Japanese manga style. It charts the story of Johnny as he learns to rip up conventional career advice in favour of something much more rewarding, in every sense.
Dan’s new book, Drive, is subtitled ‘the surprising truth about what motivates us’. It introduces some scientific research that turns received business practice on its head – and offers all of us a more inspiring and meaningful vision of work.
Dan was kind enough to answer some questions for Lateral Action readers. Here’s what he had to say.
1. In A Whole New Mind, you argue that the three megatrends of Abundance, Asia and Automation are propelling us into the Conceptual Age, in which economic and career success no longer derive from ‘left brain’ logical thinking, but from ‘right brain’ skills such as design, story and play. How has this process been affected by the economic crisis, and what are the implications for how we approach our work?
The recession only deepens and accelerates the three A’s. Companies are intent to cut costs so they’ll push more routine work to Asia and other low-cost providers overseas. Likewise, when they’re looking to cut costs, they’ll find ways to automate certain process and replace expensive human labor with less expensive software. Meantime, levels of material abundance are already so high, even with the recession, that it’s going to take even bigger, bolder leaps of imagination to create offerings that will get cash-poor and credit-strapped customers to open their wallets.
2. One of the chapters of A Whole New Mind advocates storytelling as a powerful tool for communicating ideas. You really walked the talk in your next book, Johnny Bunko – a career guide for young people written as a manga graphic novel. What made you choose such an unconventional format for a business book?
It was a combination of factors, really.
First, I spent a few months in Japan in 2007 studying the manga industry. One of the things you quickly discover is that comics in Japan and comics in American have very different places in people’s lives. In Japan, comics are ubquitous. You can find manga for just about every topic — from time management to politics to history to investing. Meanwhile, manga was becoming extremely popular here in America. But we still thought of it as a kids’ medium. Nobody was creating it for people over 17. So I thought: Why not use this incredibly powerful expressive form to reinvent the business book?
Second, I began to think about the role of books in a world where people have so many other avenues to information. For career information in particular, it seemed that all the tactical information was available for free online. Putting that sort of info into a printed book didn’t make much sense. But I did think there was value to readers in creating books that offered the sort of insights that couldn’t be Googled — strategic, big picture advice. That’s what I tried to do with the six big lessons in the book. And manga was the perfect medium for that.
Third, and this one I sorta discovered after the fact, graphic novels export well. They are easy to translate into other languages and they are very accessible across cultures. You’ll notice that there is no nationality mentioned in the book. That’s because I didn’t want to write an American book. I wanted to write a book that was broadly applicable to white-collar workers all over the world.
3. Johnny Bunko has been a resounding hit, so you obviously achieved your goal with regard to your audience. But what was it like for you as an author to work in this new medium? What effect did it have on your creative process?
It was challenging. But I was very fortunate to work with someone as talented as Rob Ten Pas, who taught me a huge amount. I didn’t have a sense really of how to tell a story using pictures and words in concert. So I started out overwriting quite a bit. But I found myself really paring back the text and thanks to Rob, understanding how much narrative freight the images could carry. As for the longer term effect on my creative process, it gave me even greater respect for the power of story in the persuasion and learning.
4. In your previous books you’ve touched on the effect of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations on the quality of work and life. What made you decide to devote an entire book to the subject – your forthcoming Drive?
I guess the main reason I decided to devote a book to this topic is that I started looking at the research and discovered how fascinating and voluminous it was. What’s more, lots and lots of what I read really called into question many guiding assumptions about how we run our businesses and our lives. In fact, I devote an entire chapter to the “seven deadly flaws” of carrots and sticks. Every time I tell people about these sorts of experiments, they’re surprised and intrigued. That’s a good reaction if you’re a writer.
5. Drive is subtitled ‘the surprising truth about what motivates us’. What is that truth, and why does it matter?
There’s a myth in business that the only way to get people to perform at a high level is with carrots and sticks. But that’s just wrong – not wrong morally, but wrong scientifically. Forty years of science tells us that those sorts of motivators – If you do this, then you’ll get that – do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. And for creative conceptual work, those if-then motivators usually make things worse.
The better approach – more enduring and more effective – is motivation built around three ingredients: Autonomy (the desire to direct our own lives), Mastery (the urge to get better at things that matter, and Purpose (the desire to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.)
6. What kind of reception have you had from business leaders when you’ve confronted them with the research evidence about different types of motivation?
They’re actually quite intrigued by the research – and you can often see the lightbulb going off as they begin to relate it to their own experiences. Also, I’ve already heard from lots of people and companies in the shadows, who are almost whispering, “Yeah, you’re right. We’re already doing this. But we don’t want our competitors to find out.”
7. Many of our readers are attempting to find the right balance between doing work they love (intrinsic motivation) and earning a living (extrinsic motivation). What advice can you offer them?
That’s an eternal struggle. I face it, too. But what I’ve discovered is that you have to let intrinsic motivation take the lead. If extrinsic motivators begin dictating what you do and how you do it too much, you’re heading down a very dangerous path. My general advice – and one I’ve tried to adhere to myself – is to follow your intrinsic motivation, but to always be shrewd and savvy about the realities of business and to recognize that you’ll never have a “pure” existence. Also, being frugal is always wise.