We've written about Dan Pink's last work, Drive before. It's a fascinating book that explores some counterintuitive concepts about how money incentivizes people. His new book, To Sell is Human appears to build on these concepts, as it specifically relates to salespeople (who many people assume are only incentivized by money). An HBR article appears to summarize the thesis:
Some things in life we know are true. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. A body in motion will remain in motion unless acted on by an outside force. And the best way to motivate salespeople is by offering them commissions.
But what if we’re wrong, at least about that last one? What if paying salespeople commissions is rooted more in tradition than logic? What if it’s a practice so cemented into orthodoxy that it’s no longer an actual decision? That’s what a handful of companies have begun discovering. To the surprise of many, these firms are showing that commissions can sometimes do more harm than good—and that getting rid of them can open a path to higher profits.
Either way, it should come as little surprise that Pink is also trying unique ideas for the selling of his own book, including recruiting a "launch team" made up of 96 people who promise to share the ideas in the book (and, no, I'm not a part of that). He's offering up "rewards" for people who are willing to do this:
Advance galley copy of To Sell is Human – there’s only a couple hundred of these ever printed.
Signed 1st edition hardcover of To Sell is Human.
A public Thank You on my blog along with links to your website and Twitter.
Exclusive access to me – and each other – via a private Facebook group.
It's that last one that I find most interesting. It's not all that different than some of the offerings we've put together for people on Techdirt as well, who wish to support the site, and can get greater access in exchange (which has been really fun in practice!). It will be interesting to see how well this works (and hopefully Pink will report back on the success or failure of the program as it goes on).
What do people have to do in order to be included? Well, first they have to apply (and applications close tonight at midnight eastern) and be chosen. But then, it's pretty straightforward:
Spread the word about the book on your platform during the weeks before and after publication.
Leave a short, honest review of To Sell is Human at Amazon.com or BN.com on December 31.
Join us in the Facebook group to brainstorm and share ideas on how we might spread the word about To Sell is Human.
I would imagine that, under current FTC rules, anyone in this program would actually need to disclose their participation in the program whenever they talk about the book -- which hopefully Pink is telling those who sign up for this. I also wonder if those who don't get "in" to the program will walk away feeling negative about it. Hopefully not. Either way, it's an interesting experiment and hopefully he'll share how well it works. I've always been a big fan of "access" to content creators as a possible unique form of "reward" -- and it's the kind of experience that can't be copied, which is what makes it so valuable.
But such explanations overlook a far deeper and enduring truth about human nature: most people simply don't want to work for free. They like the idea of the Web as a place where no one goes unheard and the contributions of millions of amateurs can change the world. But when they come home from a hard day at work and turn on their computer, it turns out many of them would rather watch funny videos of kittens or shop for cheap airfares than contribute to the greater good. Even the Internet is no match for sloth.
Is this based on a study? There are no citations. And, in fact, most studies show that people do stuff for non-monetary reasons all the time. Also, if this were true, then, um, wouldn't Wikipedia have stalled out way back at the beginning? How else to explain the nearly decade-long support for the site? There's also an indication of the confusion by the authors in that paragraph where it notes that "many would rather" do something else. Well, of course.
One of the strawmen criticisms of user-generated content is that if everyone doesn't participate, it's a failure. But that's simply never been the case. Anyone who's built any of these sorts of services has pretty much known from the beginning that you have a huge skew, where perhaps 1% of your users are active, and another 99% are lurkers or casual users. That doesn't mean the services are a failure. Just that they're useful for some people in different ways. But the Newsweek writers don't seem to recognize this and issue a series of statements that highlight this confusion:
About 95 percent of blogs are launched and quickly abandoned. A recent Pew study found that blogging has withered as a pastime, with the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who identify themselves as bloggers declining by half between 2006 and 2009. A shift to Twitter--or microblogging, as it's called--partly accounts for these numbers. But while Twitter carries more than 50 million tweets per day, its army of keystrokers may not be as large as it seems. As many as 90 percent of tweets come from 10 percent of users, according to a 2009 Harvard study. The others are primarily "lurkers"--people who don't contribute but track the postings of others. Between 60 and 70 percent of people who sign up for the 140-character platform quit within a month, according to a recent Nielsen report.
Citizen journalism also has stabilized. Fewer than one in 10 Web users say they have created their own original news or opinion piece, according to Pew, and comment sections on blogs or mainstream media sites, which were supposed to turn the old one-way media model into a two-way street, are often too profane, hateful, or off-point to attract people. Only one in four Web users has left a comment--probably no more than wrote letters to the editor in decades past, says Brian Thornton, a University of North Florida professor who has studied the history of the letters page.
None of this actually proves what the authors think it proves. It just shows that not everyone uses these services. Well, duh. If the mark of success for online services was that everyone who signs up for them uses them forever, or that all users are the top users, nothing would be a success.
But, the article moves from these sorts of weird misguided attempts to slam user-generated content into pure farce towards the end of the article. After spending most of the article insisting (without any proof) that people don't do stuff for free... it then explains a bunch of ways that sites are... um... getting users to do stuff for free and pretends this is somehow different:
While Digg won readers, it struggled to sign up voters, according to a 2008 speech by its founder Kevin Rose. Now the site is changing format, relaunching (later this year) with a personalized home page that lets users connect with friends rather than just vote on the news. Consumer-review sites like Yelp, Amazon, and Epinions, which use an army of amateur critics to cover products and services, offer elaborate appreciation programs that reward their unpaid people and keep users engaged. Yelp has more than 40 "community managers" scattered around the world, who throw parties for prolific reviewers. (At one recent event for the "Elite Squad," for instance, the snacks included squid-ink risotto.) And comment-driven news and aggregation sites like Gawker and The Huffington Post, where part of the fun is reading what the peanut gallery has to say, have decided to show the peanut gallery more love: mostly in the form of badges, stars, and special privileges. Even YouTube has added inducements, giving users the chance to play at Carnegie Hall--with a music contest--and partnering with the Guggenheim Museum to help them show off their art.
So far it seems to be working. After Gawker introduced its Star system, which gave preference to the work of "Starred" commentators, participation on the comment boards rose to a new high. The Huffington Post, which offers its best users digital merit badges and special rights (like the ability to delete other people's posts), boasts the most active commenters of any news site. And Yelp says it has maintained a pace of a million new reviews every three months.
Yes, apparently, the authors think this is somehow different because the users "get something" out of participating. But that ignores the simple fact that users always got something out of participating: depending on the user and the site it could have been anything from personal satisfaction, reputation boosting, free promotion, free hosting, free tools, etc.
The real problem here is that the authors seem to not understand either the concept of "free" or personal motivation. At the beginning of the article they assume (again, without evidence or citation) that people who do stuff for non-monetary compensation or reasons don't like to "work for free." But, at the end of the article, they suddenly pretend that people who do stuff for other non-monetary compensation prove that people need to be compensated. In the first part, they basically just ignore that there is compensation -- it's just compensation that these authors either are ignorant of or willfully ignore.
Of course, these reporters work for Newsweek, which was just "sold" for $1, so at least the magazine they work for doesn't give itself away for "free," right?
Back in April, I wrote a post about Daniel Pink's new book, Drive, in which he highlights the rather stunning amount of counterintuitive research that suggests that money can actually make people less motivated to do creative works. Since then, I got a copy of the book myself, but it's in the stack with about five books that I want to get to before it, so I may not get to it for a while. However, a lot of folks have been passing around this great video of a 10 minute presentation that Pink did, which was then whiteboard animated. It's really well done and fun to watch and basically summarizes the idea in the book:
The same point is made in the presentation, but it clarifies it a bit. It's not that money isn't important. That finding would make little sense at all. As people note all the time, you need to be able to make money to survive. But, it's that once people have a base level of money that makes them comfortable, using monetary incentives to get them to do creative work fails. Not just fails, but leads to worse performance. As we noted in the original blog post about this, my initial inkling was that this highlighted a point often forgotten by economists and non-economists alike: while marginal benefit is often considered in terms of dollars, that doesn't mean that cash is the the equivalent of marginal benefit. That is, you can't just replace other benefits with cash. Sometimes people value other types of rewards even greater than the equivalent in cash. And, Pink's book and presentation highlight how it's often things like meaning and working on something fulfilling that are much more beneficial to people than cash. So it's not that money is bad for creativity -- but that having a direct pay-for-performance type scheme seems to create negative consequences when it comes to cognitive work (it works fine for repetitive work, however) -- and other types of non-monetary rewards are a lot more effective.
And while it isn't discussed in the presentation (and I don't know if it's discussed in the book), I wonder if the high monetary rewards in a "if you do this task, we'll give you $x amount" manner actually has a strong cognitive cost. That is, the pressure to then do the task well in order to "earn" that money actually ends up causing a creativity cost that takes away from the output. When you're just doing creative work for non-cash rewards, the pressure doesn't feel quite as strong. When you put the dollar signs in, it adds mental costs, and those costs outweigh the cash rewards. It's even possible, then, that the higher the cash reward, the greater the mental costs.
Related to all of this, Clay Shirky has also just come out with a new book, Cognitive Surplus (which isn't yet in the pile on my desk, but probably will be soon) that builds on an idea that he's talked about for years: about how all these claims that people doing stuff online for free is a "waste" totally misses the point. For the past few decades, people have devoted billions of hours to watching television. Yet, with the internet, rather than watching TV, they're actually doing some creative work (sometimes for free). So when looked at in isolation, doing stuff for free may seem weird, when combined in the larger scheme of things as a substitute for mind-numbing TV watching, it's actually a huge advancement.
Wired had the smart idea of having Shirky and Pink sit down and chat with each other, and they rehash some of these ideas, and how the concepts put forth in the two books seem to overlap. Moving people away from merely consuming content towards creating content leads to a huge boost in creativity and creative output -- exactly what we've seen happening. And, it's not because of monetary incentives -- in fact, it's often because of the exact opposite.
The more you think about it, the more this all makes sense, and the more you realize just how screwed up so many incentive structures are today, because so many people think that purely monetary incentives work best.
Japan's Keihin Express Railway Co. has set up "smile scanners" at 15 of its stations, where railway employees have their smiles assessed by software in the hopes of perfecting a customer-friendly look.
This is such a classic misuse of technology by a corporation. The goal of the company is to provide more positive and friendly customer service but its technique of using a "smile scanner" is going to have the opposite effect. Nobody likes to be forced into happiness, and the employees will end up resenting the scanners, their bosses for making them use the scanners and the customers for expecting them to smile.
Instead, a smart company would try to figure out how to make its employees genuinely happy so that they smile because they want to smile. This would create endless positive outcomes for the company, the employees and the customers.
Sometimes technology can look like it provides a quick fix when, in fact, it is just an illusion.
Christopher Best: There's explicit tax law that treats software developers very unfairly if they try to work as independent contractors... yaga: that's very true CB Alana: AJ Seriously just compared arguments against copyright infringment to rape. ... Yeah, nobody should take him seriously at this point. err, against copyright* silverscarcat: seriously? Jay: Glenn Beck asking for a 9/12 movement isn't the least bit suspicious? Along with all of the other issues with the IRS right now? Ninja: I am honestly amused that the community is marking the comments of that "horse" guy as funny silverscarcat: Who takes Glenn Beck seriously? Jeff: did the 'new' comment color bars go away? dennis deems: ya I hadn't noticed until you said that. I don't recall seeing them the last couple days. Mike Masnick: new color bars ran into some big technical problems. :) we took them down while we fix them. fix is currently going through testing and should be back (and better than before) soon. dennis deems: yay! the color bars rule! Jeff: whew! Thought I was going... wait for it... "Color Blind" thanks! I'll be here all day... :-) Jay: @ssc I'm talking more in 2011 at the peak of TP hysteria TheResidentSkeptic: @mike - mod for your business model - CwF+RtB+DoP..too many miss the "Deliver On Promises" silverscarcat: Piracy will destroy software! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlniehU08ks Back in 1985 Ninja: Amusingly the opensource community gives a shit to piracy and it's flourishing. I'd like to see statistics for the activity within the open and the closed parts.