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.

1 comment:

  1. Harry,
    You motivated me to want to read Daniel Pink's book. I think of the phrase, "When we continue to do what we've always done, we'll continue to get what we always got."

    You stimulated my appetite and I wanted to learn more about Daniel's motivating principles. Obviously, the greatest force comes from within when we feel compelled to act because we are passionate and committed to the end result.

    Thanks for reviewing and relaying the knowledge. I wanted more! Always a good sign of a book review.