Let Go & Lead
Dan Pink Best-selling Author
Various

The Rise of Right Brain Thinking (2:02)

MARIL MACDONALD:
Hi.  We’re here with Daniel Pink, graciously in his home.  Thank you very much for that, Daniel.  And we’re here to talk about the Let Go and Lead project.  So today we’re going to talk about a few concepts around the paradox of how leaders actually can engage their organizations in the 21st century.  And first, I wanted to start out with just asking you a little bit about yourself.  Obviously, we all know you as a very well-known author, lecturer; you write for Wired magazine, Fast Company and others.  But how would you describe yourself?  What would you say you do?

DAN PINK:
I would just say that I’m…  I don’t really think about it all that much, but I’d say that I’m a writer.  Everything I do, the centerpiece of everything I do, is [that] I write.  And I don’t think of writing as any kind of exalted profession.  I think of it as manual labor, as a bricklayer.  And as long as I’m sort of laying bricks and building a wall, everything is good.

MARIL MACDONALD:
Tell me a little bit about laying bricks.

DAN PINK:
Well, I think there’s a misconception out there about writing being this kind of ethereal kind of task where people get some kind of great inspiration.  They walk around, think great thoughts, and then hear the voice of God, when in fact, as someone told me long ago, writing is more butt than head.  You have to put your butt in the seat, do your work, and get it done; put your butt in the seat the next day, do your work, and get it done.  It’s sort of like manual labor.  You are using your hands, after all.

MARIL MACDONALD:
It’s interesting, because you’ve recently written a lot about the different kinds of work and different approaches to work.  What inspired you to get into that topic?

DAN PINK:
Well, I’ve always had this kind of peculiar fascination with work.  I remember back in 1974, when I was ten years old, my mother brought home a book from the library called Working, by Studs Terkel.  These are the people who were working.  And I was a big sports fan then, and so I read the Baseball Player, and I think there was another athlete in there.  And then I ended up looking around and saying, “Man, what the firefighter’s doing is kind of interesting.  What the nurse is doing is kind of interesting.”  And I’ve always been really peculiarly fascinated about what people do and why they do it.

And when you stop and think about it – I had a visceral interest, but then when you stop and think about it for a moment, you realize that most people are spending at least half of their waking hours working.  And if you can understand that, you really are understanding, I think, who human beings are, what makes people tick, how society is configured.  I just think it’s an endlessly fascinating window into both the human soul, but also into how our world works.

MARIL MACDONALD:Yeah, it’s interesting, because when I founded my firm, I founded it on the dream of changing the world one dysfunctional company at a time.  And the idea was, people are spending most of their lives doing something where they’re still feeling that they haven’t really given and that there’s such a gap in terms of the ability to apply a gift to something productive; and yet leaders are trying to tap into that gift.

And so I’ve been on the journey of what’s the disconnect.  So it’s been so fascinating to see all the research that you’ve done, because you’ve really looked at it from a data-driven point of view.

DAN PINK:
Sure, [inaudible] combination of people stories along with broader amounts of evidence and data from the world of science and the world of economics.

MARIL MACDONALD:
And as we start looking at what’s happening in the world today that would really affect how one might think about how one leads, what is it you’re seeing?

DAN PINK:
I think you’re seeing a number of big changes in the actual nature of work.  One of them is the move towards [peak?] individuals being responsible more and more for their work; that is, a less – this is well-known – a less paternal-istic kind of culture, where the company takes care of people, and more of people being forced to navigate their own world; more of the risk being shifted onto individuals.  That’s one big change.

It’s a big change, actually, in what people are doing.  It used to be that the central set of abilities in white-collar work were more of these left-brain abilities, these spreadsheet SAT abilities.  Now those abilities are easy to send to Malaysia, easy to send to India, easy to automate in something like TurboTax.  And so we’re relying more on the right-brain capacities – big-picture thinking, inventiveness, artistry, empathy.

And I think the other big change, which is, in part, a consequence of those previous changes, is the nature of motivation and how you motivate people to do great work.  And I think our motivational systems are ideal for 20th century work, and yet they don’t work very well for 20th century work, and there’s a big mismatch there.  So I think that how people are working – what they’re doing, why they’re working – I think we’ve seen some pretty signify-cant, even historical, changes.