Monthly Archives: May, 2011

Book Review: “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”

DriveAs I read “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” I found myself nodding my head in approval… a lot. Daniel Pink makes a compelling argument against the adequacy of commonly accepted ideas on what motivates us: ‘carrots and sticks’, and the effectiveness of management that continues to use those ideas today even after they have been debunked. He presents the findings of scientific studies conducted by thought leaders in the field of psychology, sociology, economics like Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, Carol Dweck, Dan Ariely, and Teresa Amabile as he builds his own model to describe what drives us.

Pink’s model of motivation is elegant. Made up of three parts, it is simple yet captures key factors that drive motivation:

  1. People have a desire for autonomy with respect to task, time, team and technique,
  2. People want to gain mastery over what they do, and
  3. People crave to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

It holds an intuitive appeal for me. I suspect that might be a function of the type of work I do and my experience doing it. For as long as I have been working I have been dissatisfied with the management style used by each of my employers. Among other things, I found them lacking in the way they chose to motivate. The studies Pink discusses in the book helped me understand why some of my job functions went from ‘play’ to ‘work’. They also explain why, from time to time, they reverted back from ‘work’ to ‘play’. His model crystallized what I am looking for as a knowledge worker: An opportunity to choose what I do, when I do it, with whom I do it and how I do it. An opportunity to do it well and get better at it. And, an opportunity to do it in the cause of something greater than myself.

“Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” is a well written book. Pink doesn’t make the reader work at it. He weaves stories that hook a reader and pull him along without being wiser to it. It takes lots of skill and effort to pull that off. Pink builds his case for his model of motivation logically, never losing the reader in the process. He doesn’t just cite studies, he explains their findings. Then he takes the additional step to explain the implication of those findings as he works to incorporate them into his model. So, the net result is an extremely reader friendly book that informs and educates. I place this book in the same space as Jonah Leher‘s “How We Decide“, Dan Ariely‘s “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions“, Ori Brafman‘s “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior“.


  • Check out a really wild animation of Dan Pink’s talk here.
  • Check out Dan Pink’s TED talk here.
  • Check out Dan Pink’s RSA talk here (related to the animation above).

Fork in the Road

Excepting in the presence of active research in a pure science, the applications of the science tend to drop into a deadly rut of unthinking routine, incapable of progress beyond a limited range predetermined by accomplishments of pure science, and are in constant danger of falling into the hands of people who do not really understand the tools that they are working with and who are out of touch with those that do…

Harold Hotelling, Memorandum to the Government of India, 24 February 1940

That is the predicament I found myself in.

I was hired to support the company’s efforts to validate their processes in preparation for registering their manufacturing facility with the FDA. The FDA defines process validation as:

…establishing by objective evidence that a process consistently produces a result or product meeting its predetermined specifications.

— 21CFR820.3(z)(1)

While the definition is succinct, process validation is not a trivial task. And, contrary to the belief of management that is not literate in the quality system regulations or the subject of quality assurance, it is certainly not something you can “whip out”. It requires an understanding of the process in question – its key inputs and the key attributes of its output – coupled with an understanding of statistical principles such as the design of experiments (DOE) and analysis of variance (ANOVA) necessary to generate the objective evidence that will establish for the company and the FDA that the “process consistently produces a result meeting its predetermined specifications”. And, it also helps to have a proper plan that allows management to identify and allocate the resources required to successfully meet its objectives. At a minimum, a basic project plan should include a detailed checklist of actions items with clearly defined owners and due dates.

But, when management does not understand or trivializes these requirements, it makes decisions that endanger the best interests of the company. Unnecessary risk is assumed. Resources are wasted. Workers are put in a chaotic situation that is the primary source of much of their frustration and fear. So it should not be a surprise when “new” action items “pop up” in crunch time; when there is confusion around the ownership of a task, or when deadlines are missed and missed again causing tensions to flare. And, while these gaffes in project management might be overcome through working harder (translated as management by proclamation – “because I said so” – and long hours), there is no hope to compensate for poorly designed experiments with insufficiently identified process parameters through brute force. Without the right data there is no way to show the process’s capability or even that it is in statistical control.

So there it is – a fork in the road. A choice that we are all confronted with more often than we would like: follow the whack-a-mole tactics of a management team without a strategy or as Dr. Hotelling put it “people who do not really understand the tools that they are working with and who are out of touch with those that do”, or make a swift exit to focus on developing your personal knowledge and skills while searching for a better opportunity. As scary as it seems, the latter choice will always lead to a better outcome. At least that has been my experience.

Deming Redux

Last Saturday, April 29, 2011, the Austin section of ASQ held its educational event for the 2010-2011 year. It was a daylong seminar titled “Dr. Deming Day” in reverence of management guru Dr. W. Edwards Deming. The objectives were to recognize the relevance of Dr. Deming’s teachings in today’s business environment; to better understand the difficult to understand, and to recast existing management data by understanding variation.

Now, there are plenty of ‘consultants’ that hold seminars on Dr. Deming’s philosophy. (Just do a search on the web and you’ll see what I mean.) But, I would just as soon read what the man wrote for myself than listen to someone else interpret his writings for me. So, about a month ago I had started reading his classic “Out of the Crisis”. (I hope to post a review of it when I am done.) And, as I worked my way through it chapter by chapter I noticed him crediting Bill Scherkenbach for contributing to various points he was making.

Who is Bill Scherkenbach? With an online search I found out that he studied under Dr. Deming at NYU and accompanied him on countless seminars. Dr. Deming had high praise for Bill, saying: “He was my student, and there’s none better in the world… It takes a little ingredient called profound knowledge, and he’s got it.” Lo and behold, the “Dr. Deming Day” seminar was being presented by none other than Bill Scherkenbach. While I would have loved to have had an opportunity to attend one of Dr. Deming’s talks, that wasn’t going to be possible. He passed away in 1993. However, I couldn’t pass up the next best thing: an opportunity to learn from someone who studied under him and he was proud of.

Bill started off by providing insights into who Dr. Deming was as a person and a teacher. He put the many quotes attributed to Dr. Deming into their context. You’re never going to get this type of behind-the-scenes access from a book. Context matters. It helps understanding. He followed up with a history and overview of Dr. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge and the theories that are integral parts of it: Knowledge of variation; Knowledge of psychology; an Appreciation of a system, and the Theory of knowledge. He walked us through Dr. Deming’s famous Funnel and Red Bead experiments to demonstrate the concept of variation; explained how Fundamental Attribution Error affects our judgment; talked about the need for components to run sub-optimally so that the system may run optimally; and how management’s job – prediction – is only possible with knowledge built on theory.

In the course of listening to Bill, and trying to absorb his message, I caught a glimpse of the tremendous challenge we still face: transforming ourselves to meet our obligations to the rest. That’s the bad news. The good news is a framework and a roadmap to do this exists. The ideas talked about by Dr. Deming aren’t just for businesses. They are applicable to all aspects of life and form a philosophy. If understood and applied properly, they will totally transform society (see the rise of Japan post WWII). This I firmly believe. A one day seminar is not enough to internalize the message. I noted down many questions. Questions I hope to explore and understand in future blog posts.

I’m glad I went to the seminar. I would have sorely regretted missing the opportunity if I hadn’t.