Bill Harris writes:
Do you or your readers have any insights into the research that underlays Dan Pink’s work on motivation and Tom Wujec’s (or Peter Skillman’s) work on iterative development? They make intuitive sense to me (but may be counterintuitive to others), but I don’t know much more about them.
Pink’s work is summarized in a TED talk (yeah, okay, cred problem already, eh?) on The puzzle of motivation (there’s a shorter RSA animation here). The basic claim? Once one gets past routine tasks and once one has enough financial reward to take money off the table, then extrinsic motivation worsens performance instead of improving them. That’s largely consistent with Deming’s views, too.
Wujec’s and Skillman’s work is summarized in another TED talk, called Build a tower, build a team, and on The Marshmallow Challenge Web site. If you listen to the end, you get the message that iteration trumps planning, that extrinsic motivation alone degrades performance seriously, and that knowledge about effective (iterative, collaborative processes) combined with financial rewards trumps even that knowledge by itself. In a way, that’s consistent with Tukey’s EDA, with your emphasis on starting small and iterating (still not quite expressly consistent with your “throw everything into a model and test it all at once”), and with the iterative stance of action research and continual process improvement.
Both claim to be supported by studies. There’s an interview with Pink in HBR called What Motivates Us? but everything I find online says there is research but doesn’t provide it (I read the book, but it was when it was new, and I no longer have it easily available). So far, the Wujec / Skillman position seems supported mostly by experiments they’ve run in workshops they’ve conducted.
They also seem to conflict in one key sense. Pink’s thesis seems to be that financial rewards degrade performance, period, while the Wujec / Skillman thesis seems to be that there’s an interaction between knowledge and financial reward, as if financial rewards amplify the effect of appropriate knowledge.
We may all have our biases, but I’m curious about cutting through those to what useful investigation of the data tells us. What does the research behind these say? Is that research good, or does it fall prey to low power and that pesky overgrown garden you keep writing about?
I have no idea. It all seems much more worthy than that power pose stuff. I guess I should talk with a serious researcher at Columbia or somewhere who works on organizational psychology. Or maybe someone who does research on sports. Usually the way I could get into such a topic would be to read some papers and check out the data and statistical analyses but here I wouldn’t know where to start.
The topic is interesting in itself and is of particular importance to me because nearly every day I’m thinking about what I can do to keep Stan team members happy and productive, and we do have some mix of structure we can impose and extrinsic rewards we can give out. The idea of iterative improvement makes sense to me, although to some extent that just pushes the question back one step to: How do you set up the iterative improvement process?
Finally, the relation between common sense, individual experiences, and statistical evidence is unclear here. Sure, statistical evidence should be relevant, but maybe the details of how to manage the team vary so much that there is no general recipe for success or even for relative success. Then it would be hard to study the topic using the usual treatment vs. control strategy.
A similar issue arises in education research which may be one reason we don’t practice what we preach, and even in silly things like power pose: if, as seems reasonable, different “poses” work for different people in different settings, then it may be close to hopeless to learn anything useful from a conventional experiment. One could however take one step back and do a controlled trial of meta-advice, for example instead of recommending a specific pose, the person in the experiment could just be asked to choose a pose, or to sit and focus for a few minutes. Then again, that won’t work for everyone either . . .