Unexpected Rewards from Daniel Pink, Michael Eisner and Reed Hastings

Daniel Pink takes on motivation in his new book Drive. I recently had the pleasure of hearing him speak in Pasadena, something I recommend to anyone given the opportunity (he’s an exceptional speaker, see his speaking schedule or this TED talk), where he reinforced a key message from his book about rewarding: when rewards are expected, performance suffers. “If you do X, then I’ll reward you with Y” scenarios undermine intrinsic motivation. In a typical job situation, assuming we’re paid enough of a baseline salary commensurate with our value, it’s the unexpected bonus that’s most effective.

This is precisely what I heard from Michael Eisner and Reed Hastings at a recent Churchill Club dinner in Santa Clara. With two very different takes on management, they had a lively discussion about succeeding in the “nimble” technology or more “traditional” Hollywood industries. Eisner as the elder statesmen of formal management, and Hastings as the up and coming entrepreneur with a new take on leadership—which is detailed, by the way, in the excellent Netflix culture deck. It was a lively conversation (you can also see this take on the culture clash).

What stood out for me on the heels of Daniel Pink’s talk, was when discussing how to compensate executives, the two agreed that “if-then” targeted bonuses do not align actions to long term interests of the company. Hastings recounted an event where Netflix had extra money and considered spending it on marketing to drive more subscriptions, which his executive declined as being too expensive on the margin. What if that executive had had a bonus target tied to subscription levels? Their motivation may have been suspect.

Eisner, in turn, describes his ideal model as paying a good salary and stock package (baseline rewards), but then providing unexpected bonuses when the executive demonstrates nimbleness or does something extraordinary. Exactly what Pink’s research confirms, and a testament to Eisner’s leadership ability and understanding of motivation, as well as the astuteness of Pink’s book.

As is fitting to the point here, sometimes the best parts of study and reflection are connecting the dots when you least expect them. Thanks to Daniel Pink and the Churchill Club for an unexpected reward!

Update 2/26/2010: You can now view the video of this event.

Business is Both-Brained. What About Your Career?

The discussion of right-brain and left-brain thinking in business is a hot topic, thanks in particular to Daniel Pink’s wonderful book, A Whole New Mind. In the June 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, the article Innovation in Turbulent Times covers famous left/right, business/creative partnerships such as David Packard/Bill Hewlett, Pierre Wertheimer/Coco Chanel among others.

The need and effective paring of rational, linear and logical thinking with imaginative, creative, and holistic thinking is as obviously important as it is difficult to do well. I see this all the time working in the web domain of information technology, were engineering, design and project delivery frequently intersect.

While its fun to debate what left or right-brained skills are more important these days, one thing is certain: business is “both-brained”. Consider this poignant excerpt from the HBR article:

Management might need better visioning skills to foster a culture of curiosity and greater risk taking—primarily right-brain activities. Left-brain analytic tools might be needed to steer innovation investments toward the most promising areas. The business might need more creativity to generate ideas, but also analytics to constrain unprofitable projects. The right-brain design process might not be strong enough to transform intriguing ideas into practical products. Or the analytic left brains might need to fund the product pipeline to favor a different mix of large and small bets. Sometimes the products are fine but marketing needs to create stronger, more emotional bonds with customers, or engineers need to boost efficiency and profitability through improvements in cost or quality.

It’s as relevant in the context of a business as it is in a career. In the latter, the challenge is to manage the “partnership” of your two brain hemispheres as well as some of the successful business examples we all admire. As any brief study of neuroscience will yield, nearly everything we do uses both sides of brain. The art is in realizing your strengths or natural “handedness”, and learning to cultivate practices that encourage thinking in new ways.

Perhaps all this makes the most famous both-brainer of them all, Leonardo da Vinci, even more relevant to our demanding modern careers. (Source)

Embracing the Chaos Between Stable State Organizaitons

Visualization about leveraging chaos for innovation in stable organizations, using General David Petraeus and the Iraq counterinsurgency “surge” as a case study. Content based on the book The Gamble by Thomas Ricks (which I have not read).

You can find the original at mondaydots, or Garr’s article on Presentation Zen, along with the author’s how to for building similar presentations using Apple’s Keynote and iMovie. I’m inspired. (Source)

Will Your Talent Pool Fix You Or Ruin You When Growth Returns?

This InformationWeek article highlights some good thinking about preparing for the growth period after the recession, thinking ahead about your talent pool, and taking advantage of growing markets like healthcare and green IT. Now is the time to prepare! (Source)

Gary Hamel: The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500

This caught my eye considering how often these elements crop up in my Fortune 500 existence. Here are the 12, but the details in each are worth reading in the article… (Source)

All ideas compete on equal footing. Contribution counts for more than credentials. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed. Leaders serve rather than preside. Tasks are chosen, not assigned. Groups are self-defining and -organizing. Resources get attracted, not allocated. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. Opinions compound and decision are peer-reviewed. Users can veto most policy decisions. Intrinsic rewards matter most. Hackers are heros.