INNOVATION HUB
9:49 am
Fri November 1, 2013

Dan Pink's Idea Economy

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Got any lightbulbs going off? Dan Pink says that ideas are the new currency.
Credit Carbon NYC / Flickr Creative Commons

Guest:

Let’s play a game — identify your dominant hand. Quickly snap your fingers five times with that hand. Now, take the forefinger on your dominant hand and draw a capital “E” on your forehead.

Now, what’s the point of this exercise? Daniel Pink — recently named to the Strategic Advisory Council of outplacement services company RiseSmart — calls this game “The E Test.” It’s been used since the 1980s to measure what social scientists call “perspective-taking.” The results can give us insight into your worldview — do you see things strictly from your own perspective, or do you take the views of others into account? If you drew the E on your forehead so that it was legible to you, your default is to trust your own view of a situation. If you drew the E so that it was legible to others, you default to considering their perspective. 

But that’s not all. If you make someone feel powerful before conducting the test — by reciting their accomplishments, for example — they are more likely to draw an E that only they can read. What does that tell us? Pink told Innovation Hub it indicates that powerful individuals aren’t always great at understanding the concerns and needs their customers and employees. And that’s a problem.

“I’m convinced that this is where bosses go awry,” Pink explained. “Bosses draw the E the wrong way, and so [their employees] don’t come along, or worse, they quit.”

Whether we're selling a product to clients or an idea in the boardroom, Pink says we're all in sales.
Credit Victor 1558 / Flickr Creative Commons

Changing Your Perspective

Why is it important to be able to take the perspective of others? Pink argues it’s vital because in the 21st century, every individual works in sales. In 2013, he reports, one in nine American workers has a job in sales. Even if you’re not selling an item — like ad time for television, or a car — you’re selling yourself, and you’re selling ideas.

“People are spending about 40 percent of their on the job moving other people, persuading, influencing, convincing cajoling people, making this very sales-like exchange,” Pink explains. “The denomination isn’t dollars, but it’s time, effort, attention, commitment, zeal, energy — many kinds of intangible things.”

As it turns out, the best salespeople are able to understand others' perspective. Pink tells a legend about advertising executive Rosser Reeves, who created the famous “I like Ike” slogan for Eisenhower's presidential campaign. Reeves came across a beggar on the street with a sign reading, “I am blind.” Just by adding four words to the sign, “It is springtime and,” Reeves increased the amount of money the man received.

Here's the secret behind the switch: re-framing the man’s plight helped passersby understand his perspective and increased their sympathy.

Running a big office? Bring smart people together and stay out of the way, says Pink.
Credit melburnian / Flickr Creative Commons

Helping Sellers Sell

This sales-driven, idea-focused economy affects companies internally as well. Why? With sales at the center of business, companies must understand how to motivate their employees to sell. As it turns out, many of the traditional motivating methods — like bonuses or compensation linked to sales totals — aren’t the helpful incentives one might think.

Pink gives the example of a small UK company, Red Gate Software, whose employees were manipulating the compensation system with the intent to maximize rewards for themselves, rather than the company. When the CEO eliminated bonuses in favor of profit sharing, the company saw its sales increase. To Pink, the improved sales make perfect sense.

“If you and I are both salespeople, and we’re individually commissioned, why in God’s name should I ever help you? I should probably try to poach your customers,” he says. “One of the things about these complicated incentive structures … is that there’s a cost to them. There’s a cost to administer them, to enforce them, to litigate disputes about them.”

Instead of using a reward system to motivate your employees, Pink suggests an easier method to help your company succeed: hire great people and don’t meddle in their work.

“This is the way you motivate people to do great work. You don’t dangle a carrot out in front of them and say, ‘If you do something groovy, I’ll give you a reward,’” he argues. “You … hire good people. Good people want to do good things. One way to help people do good things is to get out of their way.”

Still curious?

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