The lights dimmed and audience members tucked away their copies of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About what Motivates Us,” as the anticipated speaker took the stage.
Dynamic. The only word to describe Daniel Pink as he opened with comments on the “balmy Iowa weather,” curling club and the laws of physics.
Before Pink started that evening, President Maxwell took the stage, as the crowd sang a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” to offer a few words of welcome to the full Sheslow Auditorium last Wednesday night.
‘Tonight’s event is a family event. A true representation of how Drake is an exceptional learning environment.” Maxwell spoke to Pink’s presence as a symbol of the university’s increasing commitment to leadership studies.
The Drake Faculty Senate recently adopted the leadership concentration into the curriculum.
Donald V. Adams Academy students and many classes were offered credit for attending the lecture and the packed audience settled in with laptops and notebooks hoping to catch insights to motivation. Pink delivered with gusto and a plethora of connection points, talking with his hands and delivering personal tales.
“I believe in repetition,” Pink said.
Pink bases most of his theories on decades of research. He began with the point that motivation is based outside of physics, contrary to popular belief, and outlined his speech with two main studies.
He set up his stories about research like a storyteller and took the audience from the middle of Iowa to a scene out of Cambridge, Mass., of the Federal Reserve Bank. The first study found that once a task called for “even rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward led to poorer performance.
“That’s like French! That’s not how it works here,” Pink interjected with a sarcastic note.
“If-then motivators,” as he called them, are ones that organizations and educational systems often use. Surprisingly enough though, the more extrinsic the reward is, the less productive the behavior.
He then transported the scene to an Israeli daycare center. If parents were to pick up their children late, they were fined $5.
“This is called punishment. We like punishment. Punishment is fun. It hurts people. It makes the behavior less,” Pink said.
Pink reported that after the center put up a sign indicating the punishment, there was a steady increase in the number of parents coming late. The rate finally settled at a level that was twice as large as the initial. What were the reasons for this? The posting took it out of the moral realm.
Throughout the lecture, Pink asked for, and received, audience interaction. He inquired as to what sort of cognitive processes Drake students hope to use after graduation and then how they would solve the “I don’t think there’s a perfect solution,” problem.
He was logistical in his presentation and concluded these studies.
“The point I want to leave you with is that physics run us awry,” he said.
Pink offered that there are two assumptions that run organizations and teams awry.
“No. 1 [assumption] is that humans are simple machines,” Pink said. “People are simply blobs.”
He implored, rather, that humans are active and engaged. Pink agreed with the common management theory that in the workplace, you have to pay people enough, but three things matter most.
“They are autonomy, mastery and purpose,” Pink said.
Pink offered up some “radical opportunities” that companies such as Google, Netfix and Zappos.com are using. “Twenty percent time” is a concept that allows employees the time to work on whatever projects they want, as long as they are not associated to “regular” work. These are also called “FedEx days,” because at the end of the day, an employee needs to deliver an idea.
The hushed audience listened as if Pink were telling a secret to success as he spoke about “the three laws of mastery.” The three laws include that mastery is a mindset, mastery is pain and mastery is an asymptote.
To conclude, Pink whisked the audience to a call center, for a study on those who were reminded as to why they were working.
“Particularly in school we inquire how to do it and not why to do it,” he said. “I think we have a gap between what science says and what business does,” Pink said as he ended on a high note with an expressed faith in the young generations.
Students took away much of Pink’s good advice.
“It was very interesting and I enjoyed his comments on asking why in the classroom,” Jon McDonald, a junior, said. “I hope that Drake as a whole takes his teachings into consideration.”
Pink also stayed for book signings. Thursday morning Pink spoke to approximately 300 Des Moines community professionals on many of the same principles.
Photo: Connor McCourtney