The Great Jackass Fallacy – Dan Pink and W. Edwards Deming

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Special thanks to reader Dan Mott who left a link to a TED video on a post from last week called Performance Evals Are Bad – The Great Jackass Fallacy criticizing the “carrots and sticks” approach to performance evaluations and merit increases.  According to career analyst Dan Pink (you can read reviews of and or buy his new book – Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us here), science has been confirming what Deming told us beginning in the first half of the last century — positive intent, an intrinsic desire to achieve  beats the extrinsic motivation model.  Dan summarizes the intrinsic motivators as: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Take the time to watch the 20 minute video from TED Global 2009:

So to sum up what Dan shared with us:

  1. External incentives have a negative effect on right brain (cognitive / creative) work even though we like to call it ‘pay for performance.’
  2. External incentives have a positive effect on left brain (task oriented, if – then) work.
  3. People have an urge to direct their own lives – autonomy.
  4. People have a desire to get better and better at something that matters – mastery.
  5. People yearn to do what they do in the service of something larger than themselves – purpose.
  6. There is a severe disconnect between the science and management theory.  Ed Note – some people will insist that the world is flat until the see the picture from the moon and then they will claim that it is really a sound-stage in Arizona.

How revolutionary is what Dan is presenting?  Not to steal his thunder, he is on to some powerful stuff here, but this is pretty much what Deming has been telling us for a long time.  What Dan has done is surveyed the science literature and can make an empirical argument based on reviewed scientific work.  I don’t remember Deming doing that. He more made an appeal on a moral level and at a level of common sense (if you know of Deming basing his arguments about intrinsic motivation please share.)   Of course Dan’s delivery is excellent and Dr. Deming typically mumbled stuff.  I am going to read his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Dan’s message directly reinforces the following of Deming’s 14 points/Deadly Diseases:

  • No. 1 – Create constancy of purpose – purpose.  Inherent in creating constancy of purpose was communicating that purpose, part of point no. 7, adopt and institute leadership.
  • No. 6 – Institute training for skills – mastery.
  • No. 13 – Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement – mastery.
  • No. 14 – Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation – purpose.  Creating an environment where people know that their work is toward positive change in the organization will give people a deeper sense of purpose than dictating a target for a key process indicator.
  • Deming’s 3rd Deadly Disease – Evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance

Deming tied intrinsic motivation to self esteem, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, and a yearning for learning.  He believed that these characteristics were ground out of people by life and hierarchical organizations.  Maybe poorly conceived performance evaluation and merit pay systems are part of what grinds these things out of people.  Watch Deming:

What do you think?  Dan doesn’t come from our ‘lean’ world but he is definitely an intellectual ally.  We have somebody from outside our field (quality improvement, lean, whatever we want to call it) to carry at least part of Deming’s message.  Given that he doesn’t come from our field maybe he will carry credibility to some of the people with whom we often have very little.  Dan can’t rationalized away as a member of the ‘Deming Cult’, yet he carries the message.  You can follow Dan on twitter here or follow his blog here.

What do you think?  Is this all a socialist plot to undermine competition in the workplace or is the science as clear as Dan presents it?  On a closing note, Dan points out that external incentives do positively affect left brain (task oriented) activities, those if – then activities as he referred to them.  What are the implications of that?  How can we use that?  Should we use it?

Happy and Safe New Year to All, Semper Fi Marines,


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13 Responses

  1. I think it’s great what Pink is talking about now. Finally there is someone else to quote about the subject than Deming, because those lines were getting stale.

    I think between this and a new generation of workers that appears to be more vocal about wanting more than a paycheck, perhaps we can finally make a lasting change in this direction.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

    • I think it is great that we have somebody like Pink reinvigorating Deming’s message. I think it helps us that he comes from a different belief tree as well. He can be written off as a member of the “Cult of Deming.” Not that membership in that cult is all that bad of a thing but a lot of people don’t like him and I think judge his ideas harshly without evaluating them first.
      Also, I agree that new generation brings welcomed thought diversity. A lot of people in my generation speak disparagingly about the new generation but I think bring a different and valuable perspective.

  2. Harry Levinson published the book, “The Great Jackass Fallacy,” in 1973. More psychologically penetrating than Mr. Pink’s approach, but weaves similar arguments.

    Robert Edward Cenek

    • Robert, I have not been able to get my hands on a copy of “The Great Jackass Fallacy.” i have tried at my district library and their book sharing program but can find one for circulation. I can say that it was one of the most frequently cited works that I ran into while doing my ‘blogger’s” research. I quoted from it extensively in the previous post on the subject (linked to above). I certainly think Prof. Levinson deserves a lot of credit for dispelling spurious beliefs about human motivation.

  3. Dan should be a great ally to the lean movement, especially since he’s such a persuasive writer and speaker. I’m excited that we now seem to be getting traction in the area of motivation and engagement. In addition to Dan’s new book, Gary Hamel and some engagement experts are speaking out about the importance of job design, worker control and values. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer plus Theresa Welbourne are all talking about their research. Hooray!

  4. […] Comments Tim McMahon on Lean Is Good – Year in ReviewLiz Guthridge on The Great Jackass Fallacy – Dan Pink and W. Edwards DemingLean Is Good – Year in Review « Lean Is Good on Hurry Up and Wait! – MuriLean […]

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  6. Bruce, Excellent! I am just catching up after the holidays and found your blog to be right on the mark. The carrot and stick do have limited application but true change and reinventing a business must come from intrinsic motivations.
    Over the Holidays I had a chance to visit with my cousin who is an educator that has been living in New Zealand for the last 25 years. He pointed me to the “did you know” videos on Utube. These videos are meant to stimulate discussion on topics educators have been struggling with for the last couple of years, trying to reinvent the education system. It fall in line with your blog.
    I have been meaning to write on this (did you know) but have been too lazy over the holidays.

  7. Just read this article in USA Today on “Americans Job Satisfaction at All Time Low.”

    Its interesting in that the three major points listed as to why are:

    Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting.

    • Incomes have not kept up with inflation.

    • The soaring cost of health insurance has eaten into workers’ take-home pay.

    2 of the 3 they are saying are carrot problems. However if you read the article, none of the people quoted talk about the carrot items. They discuss lack of teamwork and dissastified with their bosses listening to them.

    It seems that we have a corporate disconnect from science and also a journalistic disconnect from science and the data used to generate the points.

    It’s also interesting that some of the bad bosses problem is blamed on the employee?????

    It makes sense why we continue to have the disconect when we are bombarded with information that doesn’t match the science.

    • You are right. Not a well written article. On the other hand I don’t need USA today to tell me if I’m happy at work or not. I’m going to be a banker and make loan default swaps and crew up the world economy and then pay myself big bonus with tax money in my next life. Easier and pays better than a hot, loud, reaking gemba.

  8. […] Read Posts Rountable 1 – Are lean certifications good?Gemba Walks…Don't Forget to Teach!The Great Jackass Fallacy – Dan Pink and W. Edwards DemingLean Haiku – Fujio Cho in the GembaAnother Interesting Poka YokeUndercover Boss – Going to the Gemba […]

  9. […] I’ve seen the same examples throughout many workplaces.  There is a latest greatest technology that sounds great, but when actually applied makes the work harder for the employees, thus creating waste and probably increased cost for the technology.  One of the recent ones that’s been imposed upon me is a new software package to perform performance appraisals.  It takes an already negative wasteful process and makes it worse.  See previous posts here, here, and here!  […]

  10. […] 0 Posted on December 30, 2009 by Bruce Baker on […]

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