Why Carrots and Sticks Are Suddenly Passe

Daniel Pink’s just-published book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead Books) is beginning to get some attention. Credit the former Al Gore speechwriter (and author of the bestselling A Whole New Mind) with leveling a blow at “pay for performance” schemes at the precise moment when big bonuses are sooooooo unfashionable. Pink says that, provided people have a baseline level of pay, what really moves them toward high levels of performance are such factors as autonomy on the job, mastery over a craft, and a sense of contributing to a higher purpose.

Stanford B-school professor Robert Sutton believes Pink “does a masterful job of showing the limits and drawbacks of widely accepted assumptions about motivation–showing the limits of carrots and sticks.” (To read Sutton’s comments, go to: http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/12/drive-daniel-pinks-definitive-and-fun-guide-to-motivation.html)

On The Wall Street Journal’s website, Barbara Chai quotes Pink as recommending that people look for personal motivation–their “third drive”—by considering things they do for fun. “Think about whether you can make a living doing that,” says Pink. “It’s more possible than people think.” (Go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704152804574628230428869074.html

My own take is recorded today on the Fortune.com website at http://money.cnn.com/2010/01/07/news/daniel_pink.fortune/index.htm

An NPR “Talk of the Nation” spot with Pink can be heard at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122221202&ft=1&f=5

As I cast about for further writing gigs, let me offer a New Year’s wish that baseline pay doesn’t become passé. A Los Angeles Times article details the woeful situation now facing freelance writers: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-onthemedia6-2010jan06,0,2787168.column

Coming in January and February

…are several business(y) books of note: The most-eagerly awaited (certainly by Random House) is former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s The Power of Many: Values for Success in Business and in Life (Crown). The would-be California Gov tells all about work-family balance, the purchase by eBay of of PayPal, and lessons she learned working at Procter & Gamble, Bain, Stride Rite, and, very interestingly, at FTD. Values, schmaluuus–the worth of this volume is in its stories, not its “rules” for business. Still, I came away persuaded that it would be cool to have a chat with Meg. (Pub date: Jan. 26)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Broadway). So you liked Made to Stick, that Malcolm Gladwell-ish prescription for how successful products attract fans? Then, Switch may be for you: More tales about how our brains are constructed, with supporting evidence drawn from such sources as Save the Children and BP. (Pub date: Feb 16)

And speaking of brains, there’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by former Al Gore speechwriter and best-selling author Daniel Pink (Riverhead Books). You like to get paid–lots–for your work? Think about it: Pink surveys a variety of scientific experiments and corporate experiences that point to other factors as more significant in motivating workers. It’s all about “autonomy, mastery, and purpose,” he says–and makes us readers believe it. Put down your whips and your carrots, Mr. Bossman–what matters is getting your colleagues to apply a sense of play and imagination to their daily tasks. (Pub date: January 4).

It's Time for "Best Books" Lists

Yes, ’tis the season to be reading, or so say many publications.

The Financial Times has an ambitious “best of” list for 2009 that includes works of fiction and nonfiction on politics, religion, science, history, food, travel, and art. That publication’s business list, compiled by Stefan Stern, includes the likes of economists George Akerloff and Robert Shiller’s Animal Spirits (an endorsement of behavioral economics) and Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance (on how central bankers fumbled during the Great Depression). To read the complete list, go to http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/2fb47d30-dae5-11de-933d-00144feabdc0.html

BusinessWeek‘s list, compiled by me prior to my recent severance from the publication, features such volumes as New Yorker writer John Cassidy’s Why Markets Fail (an attack on “market fundamentalism”) and Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail (a blow-by-blow narrative of the recent market meltdown), along with such non-finance titles as Kenneth Roman’s The King of Madison Avenue (a bio of legendary ad man David Ogilvy). To read that list, go to http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_50/b4159075731414.htm?campaign_id=rss_topStories

The Wall Street Journal has yet to post a list of “best” business books, but it has a feature on holiday-themed mysteries. You can find this at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704431804574538612376847996.html

R.I.P.–The Book

Books are dead–or so the smart-money boys say. It seems that everyone has a short attention span nowadays, they argue, sufficient only to absorb a Tweet or a sound bite.

But if that’s so, why are book authors so in demand on television talk shows, from Oprah to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert to Charlie Rose?

Reason: Books remain our society’s primary credentialing mechanism. If you don’t have a book, there’s no reason to pay attention to what you have to say.

Without a book, you just aren’t a part of the national conversation. That’s why Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney have all rushed to get their stories behind hardcovers, following the path twice trodden by President Barack Obama.

Consider an example from popular culture. The recent movie Julie & Julia concerns a young woman who, with time on her hands, decides to make every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After each culinary effort, Julie writes a blog posting about the result.

Her mother complains: “Why are you doing this? No one is reading your blog.” But in time, an article about Julie’s experiment appears in The New York Times. Suddenly, she is inundated with offers from publishers to write a book, which she does. She is no longer a nobody, she announces to her husband. “I am a writer.”

She has joined the national conversation.

Business executives are hardly immune to the lure of book publishing. Ever since Lee Iacocca’s 1984 publication of his autobiography, Iacocca, CEOs have understood that they can help promote themselves and their company’s brand by writing a book. and if they don’t do it, a legion of business writers stands ready to help with such diverse efforts as David Magee’s Turnaround (on Carlos Ghosn at Nissan) and William Holstein’s Why GM Matters.

For all these reasons, it’s important that there continue to be reporting on book publishing. But the review coverage in national publications continues to decline: Both The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post have recently discontinued their stand-alone books sections, while other publications have opted to have little books coverage at all.

Ironically, then, it will be bloggers and denizens of the Web who will play a big role in alerting readers to goings-on in the world of books. This blog will be one of those that takes up the torch.