Daniel H. Pink is the author of several provocative,bestselling
books about the changing world of work.
His latest is the bestselling Drive: The Surprising Truth About
What Motivates Us, which overturns conventional wisdom about
human motivation and offers a alternate path to high performance.
Pink held his last real job in the White House, where he served
from 1995 to 1997 as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore.
He also worked as an aide to U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich and
in other positions in politics and government.
Pinks articles on business and technology appear in many
publications, including the Harvard Business Review,
Fast Company, and Wired, where he is a
contributing editor. His other books include A Whole New Mind:
Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, which describes six
necessary abilities in an outsourced, automated age; The
Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide Youll Ever
Need, the only comic format/graphic novel ever to become a
BusinessWeek bestseller; and his first book, Free
Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, that
Publishers Weekly called a cornerstone of
Pink was a keynote speaker at ASTDs 2010 International Conference
and Exposition. He holds a BA in Linguistics from Northwestern
University and a JD from Yale Law School.
Q| How did you first get interested writing about the world of
Ive always been strangely interested in work. I dont know exactly
when it began, but one of the things I do remember is in 1974, one
of my parents brought home a copy of a book called Working
by Studs Terkel. It was a famous book of the era where the author
interviewed people about their work and they told stories about
what they did for a living, how they made a living, the good parts
about work, the bad parts about work.
I remember reading that book as a 10-year-old to learn about the
baseball player, because I was interested in sports. And I ended up
staying for the police officer, the waitress, the fire fighter, and
all the other folks.
Thirty-seven years later, I still find the subject of work is
endlessly fascinating. To me it offers an incredible window into
how our country works, how the economy works, who people are, what
their psyches are about, what their dreams are. Its one of the most
endlessly rich and complex, fascinating, and layered topics that
anybody can explore.
Q| How did your career start out?
I graduated from law school, didnt really like it, and had no
interest at all in ever being a lawyer. Im proud to say I was one
of the three people in my law school class who graduated
unemployed. I started working in political campaigns, spent some
time as an economic policy aide, and thenthrough a random set of
occurrencesfell into speech writing because I was a reasonably fast
typist. I found that I liked it and that on the good days, the job
could be interesting and meaningful.
Q| Can you tell us a bit about your experience working for Al Gore
and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich?
I ended up working for Reich in part because I was pretty
well-versed in the issues that he was working on. I really enjoyed
working for him. Working for Reich was great, too, because we
visited workplaces, wrote about workplace policy, how to make jobs
better, and how to give people a fair shake on the job. I was there
during the period when we worked like crazy to raise the minimum
wage, which we managed to accomplish way back in 1995.
A few years into that, the job of chief speechwriter to the Vice
President came open. The thing about speechwriters is that there
arent many of them, so I ended up on the list of candidates. I was
interested in the job because Id always liked Gore, and thought the
a lot of the issues that were his specialty, especially technology,
offered a chance to make a contribution. For a speechwriter
arrangement to work, there has to be at least a modest
connection between the writer and the principal. I got on
reasonably well with
Gore because were both pretty nerdy guys.
Q| Your first book was Free Agent Nation. How did that
Well, what happened was that I became a free agent myself. I quit
working in the White House because I became disenchanted with
politics and with having a job in which I didnt have full control
over what I did and how I did it.
What inspired me to write Free Agent Nation, was that I
saw a lot of others making similar decisions or sometimes being
forced into working that way because of circumstance. That is, they
were leaving large organizations to go work on their own, not
necessarily to build the next giant company but to have a little
bit more control over what they did, when they did it, how they did
And so I spent about a year travelling around the U.S. doing these
very, very long qualitative interviews with people who had gone out
on their own to get a sense of who these people were, what made
them tick, why they made these decisions, and how it was working
for them. In some ways, this book was the poor mans version of that
Studs Terkel book that Id read 20 years prior because it gave me a
chance to go around and talk to people about their work.
Q| What led you to write A Whole New Mind?
Free Agent Nation was, in some ways, about how people
worked. In the course of doing interviews for that book, I noticed
that what people were doing was also changing. In particular, I
noticed that many of the people who were flourishing had a
background in the arts.
As I probed more deeply, I learned that the future of work depends
on being able to do something thats hard to outsource, hard to
automate and delivers on our accelerating need for novelty. And
that meant that the abilities that wed always considered the most
importantthe logical, linear, spreadsheet abilities were still
important but they werent enough. Today, its the more right-brain
of abilitiesartistry, empathy, inventiveness,
big picture thinkingabilities weve often overlooked and undervalued
really the game changers.
Q| And tell us about the inspiration behind your latest
Im fortunate that I get a huge amount of reader e-mail, and one
of the things that happened after A Whole New Mind is I
got just a ton
of reader e-mail that had versions of this question: If you are
or if youre more right than wrong, how do we create an environment
people can do this kind of right brain work?
So I started looking at the ginormous body of research on human
motivation, and it said some surprising things: the motivators weve
for several centuries in businesswhat I call if-then motivators, if
this, then you get thatare pretty good for simple, routine,
but theyre just not very effective for the complicated, complex,
work that most people are doing. This finding was sitting right
there in the
social sciencebut seemed not to have made its way into the business
Drive tries to explain and to offer a bunch of tools and
ideas for how to upgrade our motivational operating system. For
watchword in many workplaces today is engagement. But nobody is
into engagement. The only way that you engage or I engage is by
under our own steam. The technology for engagement is more or
management. Its self-direction.
One of the most important things that companies can do is give
people more autonomy over what they do, when they do it, who they
do it with,
and how they actually do it. Many companies are doing some really
interesting things to foster this.
Q| Do any particular companies come to mind?
One of my favorites is an Australian software company called
Atlassian. Once a quarter, on a Thursday afternoon, they say to the
developers, Go work on anything you want. Do it the way you want.
Do it with
whomever you want. Do whatever you want. The only thing they ask is
developers work on something unrelated to their day-to-day jobs and
show what they created to the rest of the company on Friday
afternoon in a fun,
freewheeling meeting. They call these things FedEx Daysbecause you
deliver something overnight. It turns out that this one day of
undiluted autonomy has led to a whole array of fixes for existing
whole array of ideas for new products that would otherwise have
There are all kinds of examples of companies reducing control
and getting better results. Another example is Netflix. Netflixs
policy is they dont have one. People can take as much vacation as
whenever they want it. They just have to get their work done.
example is the R-O-W-E or the Results Only Work Environment. These
where people dont have to be in the office at a certain time or any
just have to get their work done. So again, there are some really
practices out there that are just emerging, but like many emerging
think theyre soon to become the norm.
Q| What do you like to do for relaxation or fun?
I like to runas often as I can. I often run with my wife and we
talk about work or life and that always is a highlight of the day.
time I am most relaxed is when I go to a baseball gamewere
Nationals fansand eat some crappy food, drink a cold beer, and hang
out with my family.