Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Overcoming Einstein’s Law of Insanity – A Review of “Drive” by Daniel Pink

We have all heard variations of Einstein’s Law of Insanity – to expect a different result from doing the same thing over and over.

Unfortunate confirmation of the pervasiveness of this law is all around us:

  • The company who hires an expert to guide them, knowing the expert has guided all of their recent clients into oblivion.
  • The company that follows the same means of execution, watching their profits ride up and down like a roller coaster.  Each dip gets a little lower, but they assure themselves that their strategy is sound and no changes are necessary.
  • The organization that struggles with making a profit and because of their struggles with revenue, insist that the only help they will accept is that which is offered free-of-charge or at below market-value.  After the free resource has left, their profits dip even more, they find another free resource and the cycle continues until a catastrophic end is in sight.
  • The leaders who have so much ego that they cannot accept guidance from anyone and insist to everyone that everything is under control right up until the end.
  • The organizations that pleads “we are a not-for-profit of some type and can’t afford to pay for assistance”.  Some are successful anyway but many struggle from year to year accepting whatever they can get for free or at minimal expense, loudly espousing great things while hiding from others, the opportunities they missed or didn’t take advantage of.
  • Organizations that have broken compensation models that don’t reward smart behavior and yet have leaders that complain when revenue is down.  I personally witnessed a sales team years ago that went after a $1 million project while intentionally bypassing a $300 million project.  Why? Because they had a commission model that knew how to reward one type of sale but not the other.  So individual got rewarded for the small deal while the organization missed its overall sales target.

Creatures of Habit – Breaking the Habit Before it Breaks Us

Being creatures of habit, we often will not follow a different path unless we are forced to or we are offered a significant motivation to change.  Surprisingly, fear of failure for many people is not sufficient motivation, since they believe that they will always save themselves right before things collapse completely.

How do we change our motivation model and therefore our results?

If you are a leader, owner or advisor to companies who suffer from the results of Einstein’s Law of Insanity, then you need to apply a cranial defibrillator to the head of the leadership team (or perhaps have someone apply it to you).

Daniel Pink’s latest book, “Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” is such a cranial defibrillator.

I found Mr. Pink’s book to be a blast (not just a breath) of fresh air.

Using a writing style that is engaging, informative and enjoyable, Mr. Pink takes the last 50 years of research in diagnosing and improving motivational behaviors and presents it to the reader in such a way that the reader says “Duh … of course”.

Now That We Know What Motivates and Demotivates

Having come to such obvious conclusions, then the reader is forced to ask themselves these questions.

Why am I not doing this? 

Why is my organization not doing this? 

How can we change how we motivate ourselves and others?

Drive” explains what motivates and demotivates us personally and professionally.  Commonly used “carrot and stick” models, even ones that people don’t realize are carrot and stick models, are shown for what they are – models that for the most part motivate for the short term but are detrimental in the long run for most situations.

Mr. Pink then discusses intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators, intrinsic being the things that motivate us from within (based on our purpose, passion and sense of self-fulfillment) versus extrinsic sources – external factors that are offered in an attempt to motivate people or artificially guide results.

Intrinsic motivators, that which we do because it gives us a sense of purpose and fulfillment and which makes use of our gifts and talents are then analyzed along three primary elements:


How self directed are you and your team in terms of control over time, tasks, techniques and teams when called upon to produce a given result and what are the surprising truths and myths that exist around giving people more autonomy?


What are the laws around accomplishing mastery of knowledge and technique in a given subject area?


How does one define, ignite and sustain a sense of purpose?

Implementing New Models

Many books in this genre tend to end the discussion at this point, leaving the reader hanging; wondering “ok, you’ve got me all excited but how do I move towards a better model?”.

Mr. Pink doesn’t disappoint.  The last part of his book contains a toolkit with practical strategies and ideas to enhance motivational models for, but not limited to:

  1. Individuals
  2. Organizations
  3. Parents and educators
  4. Maintaining a fitness regimen
  5. Compensation plans for employees

He closes his book with a wealth of guidance from experts who “get it”, the likes of Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, Gary Hamel and more.

Without a doubt, I rank this book as one of the top books in its space in terms of addressing how to motivate yourself and others.

It boils a LOT of research in motivational behavior down into practical, understandable, obvious diagnosis of modern day challenges.  It then provides powerful prescriptions to help heal the motivational woes of individuals and organizations.

The next time you or your organization needs a little ummph added to the team’s level of motivation, forget about people who sell you rah-rah corporate events or tell you that you just need to communicate more effectively. 

I blogged recently about how hundreds of us were once flown across the country so that we could literally play “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey” at a corporate motivation-builder event.  I don’t know how you would react, but personally I was offended for my team and I to be treated like 5-years-olds at incredible expense and my client was incensed to hear that we were out of the office for a few days for a mandatory morale building exercise that turned out to be insulting (and thus demotivating) instead of boosting our motivation.

Many of us left in the months that followed that exercise, with the exercise having proven to many that the company really didn’t understand what motivates people.

Don’t fall into this trap and don’t allow your teams to be further demotivated.

Instead, pick up a copy of Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”, strap on your seatbelt and prepare to be whisked into a new paradigm – a paradigm where we finally embrace a true understanding of what motivates ourselves and others and shows how to use that information to create greater productivity and a sense of fulfillment – both personally and professionally.

It will one of the most refreshing and informative books you will have read for a while.

And it could change your life and the life of your company.

I choose transforming my knowledge, execution and sense of purpose over pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey any day of the week.

How about you?

In service and servanthood.


For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Overcoming Einstein’s Law of Insanity – A Review of “Drive” by Daniel Pink”, please click here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Collaboration – Life Lessons From a Sandbox

Collaboration, teamwork, empowered teams ….

Buzzwords that we like to throw around, brag about, lay claim to and espouse as our personal mantra when telling others the “secret to our success”.

Collaboration was on my mind as I watched a group of kids playing in a sandbox and as I observed their behaviors, it occurred to me that it may be possible to predict tomorrow’s collaborators just by observing these young people.

Consider the following scenarios and ask yourself if they resonate within your own professional or personal circumstances.

The “Results and Fun” Group

The first group of kids I noticed were focused on the goals and appreciating each other’s contributions.  It didn’t matter how well dressed each kid was, how well spoken they were, how strong their personalities were or the quality of each contribution.  They were intent on building the sand castle and enjoying each other’s company as they did it.  They mattered to each other.  Ego wasn’t important.

Occasionally, some kids left this group, having been satisfied that his or her contribution and purpose had been satisfied.  They left quietly and the remainder of the group continued on happily, sometimes acknowledging the departure with a “see ya later”.

They also welcomed new additions to the group easily.  The newly added talent simply slipped into the production stream and the team continued without missing a beat.

Human creativity and collaboration at its best.

The “My Way is the Best Way” Group

The next group I observed were very busy in a different way.  They struggled with whose idea was best - “maybe there should be a moat around the castle” or “maybe the castle should have bigger walls”. 

During the fighting, some would start to cry and leave the group.  Some left in anger.  Some left in boredom when they realized their contribution didn’t matter.

Some stayed anyway, contributed for a bit and then suddenly kicked the castle down because they never liked it anyway – their idea was much better.

Having destroyed the results of the group, they walked to a different part of the sandbox and started an argument with another group of kids, intent on finding a group who agreed that their ideas were in fact the best.

The “My Way is the Only Way” Group of One

One kid was building castles by himself.  It didn’t take very long to figure out why.  Every time another kid showed up to help, the first kid would say “I want you to do this or that”.  When the new child would offer a new idea, it was promptly rejected.  Some kids were more stubborn than others in pressing their point of view but eventually, the stubbornness of the one kid was too much and the others left.

Sadly, he was alone the whole time I was there.  He had pushed everyone away.  I suspect it wasn’t the first time nor will it be the last.  I wonder if he felt lonely at all or was his need to be right more powerful than his need to play with others.

The “If I Wanted  Your Opinion I’d Give it to You” Group

One kid was struggling with getting his castle to stand without crumbling so he went over to another group of kids who were happily and successfully building their castle.

After much observation, he asked them why their castle didn’t fall over.  When they told him that you had to put just the right amount of water in the sand, he told them they were wrong.

After arguing with him for a minute, they ignored him and returned their focus to the task at hand.

The kid went back to his castle, got angry and stomped on it, walking away from it.  I overheard him telling his mother that the other kids wouldn’t help him fix it.  The mother didn’t help by reminding him that in this world, most people won’t help others.  The source of his programming was pretty clear.

The “Teamwork in Name Only” Group

One group of interest built a decent little sand castle and the parents were called over to admire it.  As they arrived, one kid in particular started to lay claim to the whole project – the design, the construction, the whole bit.  Some of the kids protested while others stood in silence with their heads down.  The one kid prattled on and on about “the best castle in the park that he built”.  I’m sure the hearts of the other kids sank as they listened to him – the potential for a collaborative spirit being torn out of them by one person seizing the rewards.  The long term effects, especially if this is not the first time, are varied and complex, either creating people who won’t collaborate or people who feel the need to take all the glory themselves when they get a chance.

The “Non-Creative Way is Safest” Group

This group was of particular interest to me.  There was a group of kids building a simple castle out of blocks of sand and a child came along and said “wouldn’t it be neat if ….” and made some observations.

His observations were quite creative but one kid replied “if we do that, it will fall down anyway so we won’t do it”.  The new kid offered a few suggestions as to why that wouldn’t happen and then walked away to play on the swings.

After he left, I was startled to hear one child say “it would be neat if …..” and repeated one of the other kid’s observations.  “That’s stupid”, said another kid, “nobody does it like that” and the latter with her bullying attitude carried the day.  The potential for a great castle died because the strongest personality in the group didn’t like the idea.

The “I Don’t Like Any Of Your Ways” Group

This group was the saddest group of all.  They in fact were not building anything in the sand.  However, they took delight in occasionally running through the sandbox, destroying everyone else’s work.

They had no intention of creating anything.  Maybe they felt they couldn’t.  I don’t know.  All I know is that they didn’t want anyone else to create anything either.

Looking In My Own Sandbox

As I observed this, I was both fascinated and saddened.  We are taught that we are a product of our life genetics and life experiences. 

The sandbox was in fact a microcosm of the world I have been a part of for a long time.

I started to think about the many groups I have worked with over the years and I realized I could categorize all of these people into one or more of these groups.

I have observed many successes and failures over the years.  The failures all fell into one of these groups – the leader who would not share credit but preferred the glory, the leader who delegated all the blame, the bully who crushed creativity and contribution, the leader who only liked their own ideas and nobody else’s or the leader who seemed to exist to take the wind out of the sails of others, crushing their projects and dreams without offering a contribution of his / her own.

Every one of those leaders eventually hit a brick wall in their personal or professional lives.  After alienating, driving away or ticking off so many people for years, they suddenly found themselves alone.  They may have had short-term success but long term success has proven to be elusive for them.

They missed the key ingredient that the first group I described knew all along.

The first group knew that we need each other.

That our collective ideas are stronger than single ideas.

That focusing on our result and not on our ego produces a better result.

That sharing the credit encourages us to continue to work together on new projects and assures us that others will stick around to help us with the next sand castle.

That embracing team creativity takes all of us further than if we chose to follow our own ideas only.

Collaboration creates much better potential for good memories as well.  In twenty years, you will be telling people the story of when you worked with so and so to build an incredible sand castle.  Not many people want to relive the time they scared everyone away or that they left in sadness that they didn’t appear to matter.

This brings something else to mind.

Maybe the next time a team is looking for a consultant to help them solve their collaboration problems, maybe we should pay a bunch of kids $1000 a day to allow us to sit and observe them.

They will not offer us “stuff” to please our ego or to tell us what we want to hear.  They will not offer advice influenced by their own life experiences which may be empowering or disempowering.

They will just be themselves and in doing so, place staggeringly profound lessons in front of us.

If we are open to those lessons, it may be the most authentic lessons we will ever learn, lessons that are placed in front of us with no ulterior motive.

Aren’t they the most profound lessons of all?

I wish you well with your own “sand castles”.

Yours in service and servanthood.


For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Collaboration – Life Lessons From a Sandbox”, please click here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


It is a cool, sunlit day and as I scan the faces of those in attendance at today’s Remembrance Day ceremony, my gaze falls upon one person in particular.

He is not standing with the throngs that have gathered to honor those who serve and who have served.  He is elderly, perhaps 80’s or 90’s in age and is in uniform.  The sun is behind him and casts him in shadow as he stands on a small hill overlooking the ceremony.

He stands alone.

As I listened to the prayers and speeches being made, I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking.

Was he thinking about the horrors he may have experienced?

Perhaps he was remembering the good times that also manifest in the midst of the nightmare of conflict.

It’s possible he was thinking about his comrades – his brothers-in-arms who went forward together and experienced times of mirth and moments of horror.

His comrades and many other men and women sacrificed much to preserve our freedom.  They are part of a fellowship that those of us who have never served will probably never understand or truly appreciate.

When the ceremony was over, I looked in his direction with intent to walk over to him.

He was gone.

Seeing this man and pondering what he might be thinking got me to thinking about fellowship in general and how much we cherish those whom we serve with.

We often take the concept of fellowship and camaraderie for granted.  We reach out to people once in a while with a cursory “how’s it going?” and often receive a perfunctory “fine”, “good” or something similar in return.  We often respond in the same manner when queried.

When I compare the depth of the fellowship that those who have served have compared to many of us in today’s society, it makes me realize what a gift their fellowship is.

They knew that they could always rely on their comrades.  Their comrades also knew that they could always rely on them in return – no matter what the cost.

How many of us can say this about the people within our circles of influence?

How many people can say this about us?

To those who have served, to those who serve, to the ones who have paid the supreme sacrifice and to all of their families, I say “thank you”.

We not only owe them an incredible debt of gratitude for the freedom they earned for us.

They also offer us incredibly powerful lessons in fellowship and camaraderie that would serve us well to understand and learn from.

In service and servanthood.


For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Fellowship”, please click here.