Let Go & Lead
Dan Pink Best-selling Author

Management is an Outdated Technology (3:36)

Well, if you just think about management here for a second, we have not scrutinized the very concept enough.  We tend to think of management – we’re sitting here, as you mentioned, in my living room, and there’s a tree outside there.  Now, it’s an old tree; it’s been there for a long time.  And I never though of, where did that tree come from – until just now – where did that tree come from.  I mean, it’s basically always been here; it’s a tree.

And we think that about management, which is a colossal mistake, because management did not emanate from nature.  Management was not given to us by God.  Management is something that some guy invented.  And as Gary Hamill has said, it’s a technology.  I think it’s a very nice way to look at it.  It’s a technology for organizing people into productive capacities.  And management is a technology from the 1850s.  There are very few technologies from the 1850s that we use today.  And it’s a perfect technology if you want compliance.  That’s what it was built for.

The history of management as a technology is designed to get people to do what you want them to do the way you want them to do it.  It is a terrific technology for that.  The problem is, more and more in the workforce, we want some measure of compliance, but what we want, really, is engagement.  And if you look at the scores from the last 25 years on employee engagement, it is this downward inexorable decline.  People are disengaged at work.

And the reason for that, at least in my view, is that we’re using the wrong technology.  No one has ever been managed into engagement.  No one has ever been controlled or incentivized into engagement.  The way that human beings engage is if they get there under their own steam.  And so you have to have some amount of self-direction and allow room for self-direction to let go, in your parlance, in order for people to actually be engaged.

And so what we have is this endless [designer?] to refine management in the way that’s actually in some ways foolish.  Let’s take an 1840s technology – the telegraph.  You could get the smartest people in North America and you could retrofit the telegraph to get the world’s most awesome telegraph – a 21 century telegraph, and then you could enlist the smartest adult-learning theorists on the planet to teach hundreds of millions of people Morse code.  I’m still going to text my daughter.  It’s the wrong technology.  Even if you make it awesome, it’s the fundamentally wrong technology.  And I think that’s one of the big disconnects we’re facing today.

That’s a fascinating way of thinking about it.  What do you think is the right technology.

For engagement, it’s self-direction.  It’s allowing people some amount of sov-ereignty, of control, freedom over when they work, what they work on, where they work, how they work.  It doesn’t mean full-fledged free-for-all, but it means dialing up the autonomy over people’s time, over people’s technique, over people’s team, and over people’s tasks.  Dialing it up just a little bit can give the kind of self-direction that I think inevitably leads to, or at least has the chance, to lead to engagement.