Dan Pink Talks WHEN

You may know best-selling author Dan Pink for well known books like "When," "To Sell is Human" and "Drive," but you've never heard him like this. A must-listen for subscribers.

Enjoy this Nexxt exclusive.


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Chad: Yes.

Joel: Welcome to the Chad and Cheese podcast, everyone. I'm Joel Cheesman.

Chad: And I am Chad Sowash. Today is a very special day for me and our listeners because one of my favorite authors of all time and favorite speakers of all time is on the show today. We all know him as Dan Pink.

Chad: Yup, that's right, that's right.

Joel: If he's one of Chad's favorite authors, it must mean that he adds illustrations in his books. Is that true?

Chad: Of course, yeah. Especially in The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. There was a lot of illustration in that.

Dan Pink: Oh yeah.

Chad: But, Free Agent Nation, a big one. My favorite, A Whole New Mind. Drive because I'm in sales. To Sell Is Human, and today, we're going to do a lot of talk around When. But, until we get ... Give us a second first, Dan. For all of our listeners who don't know who you are, give us a little synopsis of Dan Pink, will you?

Dan Pink: Well, you just gave a great synopsis of Daniel Pink because I'm a writer who writes books, and you've just named all of them, and they're books that I think go straight to a lot of stuff that you all talk about, which is work, how it's changing, how we can do it a little bit better, what sorts of skills do we need, how do we motivate people, how do we configure a workplace that where people get good stuff done.

Joel: Would you consider yourself a futurist, Dan? And do you prefer Dan or Daniel?

Dan Pink: Dan is good, and I do not ever consider myself a futurist.

Joel: Fair enough. Because you are the quite the Nostradamus on some of these books. You wrote the Free Agent Nation in 2001, and it seems to be coming true. Has it come true in the way that you thought it would?

Dan Pink: That's an interesting question. Yes and no. That book talks about the rise and all these people who are working for themselves, and at some level, I underestimated it, particularly the forces that were contributing to it as I tried to explain what was happening way back then. That book's like 18 years old.

Chad: Yeah.

Dan Pink: When I tried to explain what was happening then, I said here are the things that are going on, and I talked a lot about not only this ... It was a mix. It was kind of an intriguing mix of personal desire, self actualization, people wanting to be themselves, those kinds of very heavy psychological factors, but that was enabled by technology.

Dan Pink: I totally underestimated the technology. When I wrote that book, it was a totally different world technologically. I mean, it's kind of mind boggling to me. I mean, there were not smart phones. There was not social media. There was barely wifi. There was not widespread broadband.

Joel: Were eBay resellers the inspiration for the book because that's about the only thing I can remember back in 2001.

Dan Pink: Yeah. So, the technology has enabled this in a really, really powerful way that I did not really envision. Some of the other forces, basically the changing nature of firms and people's desire, in a world where they didn't have any job security, to do work that they actually cared about and that was actually an expression of themselves, those things are continuing.

Dan Pink: A hundred years ago, I worked in politics, I think that book is a case of what we sometimes say about politicians is that she was ahead of the voters.

Chad: That's right, that's right. Former Al Gore speech writer, correct?

Dan Pink: Back in the pre-World War I days.

Chad: So, you don't consider yourself a futurist, but yet, another book you wrote, I think it was in 2005 or 6 or something like that, A Whole New Mind. And you talk about automation abundance in Asia, which are smacking us clearly in the face today, is it not?

Dan Pink: They are. So, that book makes the argument that the skills that are most in demand are changing and that it used to be these more metaphorically left brain skills, logical, linear, SAT spreadsheet skills. Today, those are necessary, but they're no longer sufficient, and it's a different set of abilities, more 'metaphorically right brain abilities', artistry, empathy, and inventiveness big picture thinking. Those are the ones that are most important because it's fairly easy to outsource and automate those left brain reductive, routine algorithmic skills, and we see that happening big time.

Dan Pink: Again, let's talk about what I missed if you're interested in that. What I missed there was, what I underestimated was how quickly technology would be able to do certain kinds of these right brained tasks that I thought were way far off in the future.

Joel: So, Chad's always giving me grief about not being a very good salesperson. So, I have a question about your book, To Sell Is Human, the Surprising Truth About Moving Others. Talk about that book and how all of us really are sellers and how Chad should shut the fuck up.

Dan Pink: Well, I don't know if I'm going to weight in on that second point, but I can tell you what the book is about. The book is ... I'll make a determination on whether you shut up when this conversation is a little bit more fully formed.

Dan Pink: That book says if you look at the guts of what people actually do on the job, it's very different from what job descriptions say. This is probably intuitive since you guys spend so much time in this world, but I always had this suspicion that what people actually did all day, when you actually, if you were to follow them around and watch what they did all day, and then look at their 'job description', there would be a pretty large gap between those two.

Dan Pink: One of the things in particular that I was curious about is that I had this hunch that people are basically selling and persuading all the time, no matter what job they're in, whether they're in sales or not. So, what I found in doing some of this research was that if you look at the lived experience of people at work, if you actually look at what they do when they come into the office and do their work, a big portion of it is kind of sort of like selling.

Dan Pink: So, one idea in that book is that, like it or not, we're all in sales now. There are still, even in a world of automation, an extraordinary number of people in sale sales even today. But, one in nine people in the U.S. workforce are in a sales function, but the other eight or nine are also selling in some sense.

Dan Pink: But, the other curious thing here is we're doing it on a remade landscape. It used to be that if you were to sell, persuade, you were doing it in a world of information asymetry where the seller always had more information than the buyer. Today, that world is disappearing. Now, buyers have not as much information as sellers, all kinds of choices, and all kinds of ways to talk back.

Dan Pink: So, the idea here is hey, we're selling all the time. We're doing it in a new world. How do you do it effectively and ethically?

Chad: So, going toward and keeping the sales conversation going, your book Drive, an entirely different book. Today, Joel and I talk about purpose, which is why people go to work and how, in most cases, drive behind the drive doesn't mean that it's actually dollars and cents. There's more than just that.

Chad: So, the commissions behind sales really don't motivate people as much as the purpose and passion do. So, what was behind that book? What was the impetus behind it? What made you write about that?

Dan Pink: What got me interested in and to answer your question was if we are moving ... was basically in its predecessor book, A Whole New Mind, which is that if it's right that we're moving to this world where people are doing things that they haven't been doing before, where they have to be empathic, or they have to be artistic, they have to be creative, how do you motivate people to do that?

Dan Pink: I went to the research to look at what the science told us about that. What the science tells us about motivation, in general, is very different from what many organizations and many companies believe. As I said, Chad, it's a little nuanced. It's fairly nuanced in that it's, at some level, money is a little bit of a head fake when it comes to motivation.

Dan Pink: What we know is this, to make it as straight forward as possible. Fifty years of social science tells us that certain kinds of rewards that we use in organizations. Psychologists call them controlling contingent rewards. I call them if-then rewards, as if you do this, then you get that. If you do this, then you get that. It turns out that if-then rewards are very good for simple tasks and very good for tasks with short time horizons. They're extremely effective. Human beings love rewards. You dangle a reward in front of somebody, they focus, and that's good if the task, you're just following a recipe, like following a set of steps and if the finish line is very close.

Dan Pink: However, the same body of research tells us that if-then rewards don't work nearly as well for tasks that require more conceptual thinking, that are more creative, and that also have longer time horizons. The problem in organizations that we use if-then rewards for everything.

Dan Pink: So, what we should be doing if we're going to follow the evidence is using them for jobs that require simple task and short time horizons, but coming up with something different for tasks that require more complex thinking and longer time horizons. I think what's interesting, sort of the connective tissue that you are all pointing out here is that if you look at sales today, particularly B2B sales, it's not simple.

Chad: No.

Dan Pink: It's very complicated. I think that B2B sales today is essentially management consultant. You're going into a company, and you're trying to figure out what are the company's needs, how do I understand that company's business, what are their pain points, what are they missing that I'm seeing based on my own expertise, and

how can I fashion a solution that is right for them?

Dan Pink: So, for that kind of more high-level management consultant style work, and especially if you're dealing with much longer time horizons in B2B, heavy heavy commissions is not that great of an idea in the same way that we don't pay McKinsey or Bain consultants based on commission. We say these people are serious professionals and serious experts, so what we're going to do is we're going to hire great people. We're going to pay them well, and we're maybe going to have some variable comp tied to some reasonable measures, but we're not going to say that every single person in sales is purely coin operated and that sales is this kind of dumbed down profession where the only way people will perform is if you put a quarter in the slot.

Chad: And there are connective pieces there though, right? The individual had to feel like they were getting paid a fair wage, so there was that kind of connection. What other connections were there as well?

Dan Pink: When you say connections, in what sense?

Chad: So, in the sense of if you did want to go away from 'commission/bonus'—

Dan Pink: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, here's what we know as a general set of design principles for compensation, and again, there's a lot of variance from place to place and circumstance to circumstance. It isn't a case where there's a very simple recipe that applies in every situation.

Dan Pink: But, what we know is this. First of all, money is a motivator, and one of the things that bugs me is that people maybe look at that book, Drive, and say, "Oh, money doesn't matter." No, I say many many times in there, money matters. Money matters a lot. It just matters in a slightly different way.

Dan Pink: One of the things that we know is that, again, for relatively simple straight forward tasks, getting people to think about money is effective. If I want someone to stuff envelopes, I should pay them per envelope and give them a bonus for every 500 envelopes they stuff. I'm going to get more envelopes stuffed that way.

Dan Pink: But, if I'm bringing somebody in to consult with my business, I don't want them thinking about the money. I want them thinking about my problem. I want them thinking about the work. So, what you want to do in those cases is pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Pay people enough so they focus on the work and not on the money.

Dan Pink: Once you do that, they're all kinds of things that you can do. First is you get people a sense of sovereignty, a sense of self direction, autonomy. You help them make progress and get better at something that matters, mastery. We know from the work of Teresa Amabile at Harvard that the single biggest day to day motivator on the job is making progress in meaningful work and, as you guys suggested earlier, we also know that if people have a sense of purpose, that can be a motivator. So, you pay people well. You offer these other kinds of motivations.

Dan Pink: Now, as I said before, I'm not four square against any kind of variable comp, but I think that if you're going to offer variable comp, the structure of it should be fairly simply, transparent, and key to things that really matter. One of the things that happens is every salesperson knows is that you have these commission schemes or even other kinds of incentive comp schemes, and people figure out how to gain the system. So, the designers of the system then make the system more complicated, and people figure out how to gain that. So, they make it even more complicated.

Dan Pink: A lot of these incentive comp structures end of needing this giant administrative apparatus to run it, to monitor it, to litigate disputes about it when, in fact, you can do something cleaner and simpler. Pay people well. First of all, hire great people. Pay them well. Offer autonomy and mastery and purpose, and if you want, offer some variable comp that's very simple, transparent, and tied to metrics that matter.

Chad: Amen.

Joel: Dan, we love criticizing millennials on this show, and I want to pick on Drive for my question. Did you find any differences in terms of what drives the generations, or are generations jus