Dan Pink: Get A Whole New Mind
Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor back – with another Calorie Myth show and this is one of those very, very unique shows where I am as much excited to be a listener and a viewer of this interview as I am to be giving the interview itself because today we are fortunate enough to be joined by one of my favorite authors, a gentleman who’s been an inspiration to me for more than a decade. I’m a little bit star struck, I’m not going to lie – I’m not going to lie –he is the author of myriad widely, widely successful books, my favorite of which is a “Whole New Mind,” which I read when it came out and it literally transformed my life. His most recent book is called “To Sell is Human” and he is known as Daniel H. Pink, but we’re just going to call him Dan Pink for today. What’s up Dan, how you doing?
Dan: Hey, Jonathan thanks for having me. Good to talk to you.
Jonathan: Well, Dan, again —
Dan: And I intentionally wore a blue warm up jacket to sort of match your sartorial choices there so – welcome.
Jonathan: Well, thank you so much. Well, Dan, I personally again want to thank you for being on the show. I honestly read “A Whole New Mind” when it came out many, many years ago and it actually gave me a whole new mind. So, I want to personally thank you for that.
Dan: Great, I love to hear that.
Jonathan: Dan, what I really wanted to dig into today, because I’m sure a lot of our listeners are familiar with you and your work, what I think they’re probably less familiar with is your journey and you as a man and one of the things I observed –
Jonathan: Your most recent book you look at the cover – it’s beautiful – it’s just like wow – that is a New York Times bestselling book and then you go on Amazon and you see that your first book –
Dan: Yeah –
Jonathan: Came out more than 12 years ago.
Dan: Yeah –
Jonathan: The cover looks a lot different, but I could imagine there was a much different Daniel Pink writing that book. You’ve been at this for a while. What motivates you?
Dan: Yeah, I have been at it for a while in that first book, “Free Agent Nation,” which came out in 2001, that wasn’t the beginning, I was doing other stuff before that too, so I’ve been at this a very long time and it’s a long and winding road and I started out on so many kind of false hats – I went to law school, thinking that was a good thing to do. I decided that was not anything that I wanted to do, so I graduated from law school unemployed, as one of only three people in my law school class who graduated unemployed.
Jonathan: Wow –
Dan: I started working politics because that was something that was keenly interested in at the time. And I ended up working politics for a while working on a bunch of campaigns, did a little stint on Capitol Hill, then in sort of a bizarre way kind of fell into speech writing and did political speech writing for a while and then couldn’t stand that — I mean I just got sick of politics and so decided to go out on my own, so in the story of my life such as it is, that first book, “Free Agent Nation” is not Chapter One it’s like Chapter Five.
Dan: So, I guess what motivates – and it goes directly to your question of what motivates me because I think for a lot of us, myself included – I always try to draw like from my own personal experience because I’m not that special. I feel like I think a certain way or I have a certain experience it’s probably not wildly unique in the human race that my experience reflects other people’s experiences as well. And I think what happened is over time I finally figured out what it is that I felt comfortable doing that I felt good about doing, that I enjoyed waking up in the morning to do something that matched my own interests, matched my own skills, and then I felt – offered some modest contribution to the world, but that was not something I came out of the womb knowing, that was something that I finally kind of ever so slowly in a stumbling way zeroed in on when I was in my early 30s.
Dan: Early to mid- 30s, so I know despite my incredibly youthful vibrant look, I’m going to be 50 years old on my next birthday.
Dan: So…again, I’ve been around for a while now.
Jonathan: Dan at its core and having read all of your books, I can speak to this personally —
Dan: I say and no one relative except for my wife can make that distinction – I wish I were kidding, I’m actually not kidding about that…
Jonathan: That’s really where my question is going. I consider you to be very much an artist in a sense that so many books –
Dan: Exactly –
Jonathan: Come out are derivative and I really do not find your books to be derivative at all. I do find them to be innovative, but that’s an uphill battle. I can image that throughout this journey there have been a lot of people who have been like yeah – not really so sure about that – or just have frankly disagreed with a lot of what you’ve said. How do you –
Dan: Oh, sure –
Jonathan: Overcome the naysayers?
Dan: Oh, yeah, no, but I think that’s – I mean of course there’s going to be people who say, I don’t agree with you, you don’t know what you’re talking about, they’re going to be people who – a handful of people offer one star reviews and online book reviews – I mean I don’t like it –
Dan: That’s part of the game – I mean it’s part of – you can’t say oh, I’m going to put my ideas into the public domain, I’m going to try to take this incredible act of ego and self-absorption, I’m going to suggest that what I’m thinking – the ideas that I have, the suggestions that I have are worth other people considering, but the rules are that no one can disagree. I mean it doesn’t work that way, so if you get into the – I started to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt’s line – I mean if you get into the arena, you’re going to take some hits and nobody relishes that, but you can’t say, oh, no, I’m not going to allow that and so I just think that the naysayers are part of the conversation, unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve had any sort of outrageously large number of naysayers, more or fewer than anybody else, but it’s part of the territory…
Dan: I also want to just say a positive word in favor of the naysayer, because the naysayers at some level, the skeptics, at some level keep you honest.
Dan: Everyone once in a while have a good point. And it’s something to consider, but I listen respectively, I try to engage if people are being equally respectful and I think about what they’re saying and a lot of times I disagree with them, every once in a while I don’t and that’s how the system works.
Jonathan: So, we’re now, it sounds like about 20 plus years into this journey you’ve had of changing the world through your written word and through your spoken word and obviously there’s a lot of people that say positive things. We talked about there’s some people that say negative things – what got you through the early days when no one was saying anything?
Jonathan: And it was just Dan.
Dan: That’s a really good point, actually and I think the real problem that writers face isn’t opposition, it isn’t disagreement, it’s absurdity, exactly as you say, it isn’t that people love you, people hate you, it’s just that people don’t notice and I think what you have to do in that regard and I say this to writers at the beginning, first of all you got to do stuff, that stuff that you believe in and stuff that you’re proud of, regardless, okay? Don’t try to gain the system and say oh, I think this is going to be popular, I think that’s going to be a hit, because you’re probably going to be wrong, number one and number two, if you’re not doing anything that you really care about and believe in, you’re probably not going to do it all that well…
Dan: By the quality of your work diminish the chances of it being a hit.
Dan: And so my view is just – do great work – do something that you believe in – and don’t look for a quick fix…
Dan: Don’t look for immediate gratification. It’s a long and winding road. It’s a long and winding road and so you have to do something you have to believe in and do it well and there were times when I remember on my first book, I went to an book event at a Barnes and Noble in Henderson, Nevada, outside of Las Vegas, so a pretty big metropolitan area. It’s in Henderson, Nevada and here it was at 7 o’clock at night on a week night and three people showed up.
Dan: Right and so they have chairs for 50, 3 freaking people show up. I’m there in front of 3 people, then I start talking to these 3 people and 1 of them says, oh, I’m sorry I think I’m at the wrong place. So, a third of the audience was not supposed to be there and so that’s not exactly an ego boost, but what do you do in those kinds of circumstances? What you do is you treat those two people who have taken time out of their day to show up as well as you possibly can. You do everything you can to enlighten and educate even those two people because you know what at the beginning stages those two people might talk to two other people now you have four.
Dan: And when you walked in there that night you had zero.
Dan: And the game hasn’t changed entirely, things haven’t tipped yet, but you keep doing that over and over and over again and then you actually can make a difference.
Jonathan: And you used the word tip there, has that been your observation? There’s this 10,000 hour thing that Malcolm Gladwell talks about –
Dan: Yeah –
Jonathan: And a lot of other people talk about. Did you find in your own career because obviously your work has subsequently tipped, but was it linear, was it expediential, was there a moment when you feel – how did your rise take place?
Dan: Well, thank you for calling it a rise first of all – I think that – I think that’s a good question. I actually haven’t thought about that much. I think it’s just more slow and steady. I don’t think there was a tip. There definitely wasn’t a tip. It was just – one person that was interested and it became two people who were interested –
Dan: Two people were interested became four people, four people became six people, six people became seven people – seven people became nine people – just slow and steady. I have always (Inaudible 00:11:09) in the way that I think about my own work, my own kind of work happens.
Dan: And I guess my own expectations for things. I’ve always been a tortoise, not a hare, not even close. And good news about that is the (Inaudible 00:011:24) is long –
Jonathan: Well, it sounds like there is a –
Dan: It’s been more of a tortoise, it’s been more of a tortoise rather than kind of a tipping point or where you’re in one situation and then there’s just something happens and then it’s like a step change or some kind of expediential leap – it’s more like slow, slow and at some level the rise is so slow it becomes individual – going from T-1 to T-2, to T-3, to T-4, that slope is very, very, very modest and it’s almost imperceptible, but over time it actually goes up.
Jonathan: So we live in a hare – in contrast to a tortoise culture obviously – and we hear all these stories of American Idol, oh my moment, my shot, I get it and then everything changes and it’s this culture of immediate gratification.
Jonathan: What you’re describing is the opposite of immediate gratification. You go to a rural town, three people show up, one person isn’t even supposed to be there, how are you gratifying yourself along the way to keep yourself going if that external reward just isn’t so immediate and obvious?
Dan: It’s difficult sometimes.
Dan: I don’t want to say that it’s an easy path. I think that the key is there’s two more directives here –
Dan: I think there are two big factors, one is your expectations —
Dan: You go in, if you go in thinking that anybody who writes a book, any book that comes out immediately becomes an instant hit, you’re going to be in for a big disappointment. If you go in saying that if you write a book it’s actually really hard to break out and if you do break out it might take a long time. You have a very different set of expectations. That’s one thing, the second thing goes back to what I said earlier, you said, you have to do something that you believe in, you have to do something that you care about.
Dan: If you’re writing about something you ultimately don’t care about or you don’t really believe in, it’s hard to sustain –
Dan: The two person event followed by the two person event, followed by a two person event. If you’re doing something you actually care about or interested in and believe in, then it’s actually much less difficult.
Jonathan: I love this – doing what you’re passionate about. Doing what you’re interested and believe in and you’re kind of difficult to put into a box – in terms of what you’re interested in other than changing the way people think – what is it — like what do you see as the common denominator among your work that motivates you?
Dan: Well, I think there is a sort of common thread I think which is I am keenly interested in and always have been in — in work.
Dan: Why people work – what do people do at work – how do people get along with each other at work – when do people do their best work at work, and I think that on some level we sell work short – as an important component of people’s lives. If we just look at the arithmetic of it. We spend typically over half of our waking hours at work.
Dan: And so for human beings certainly middle class human beings in the (Inaudible 00:14:39) it becomes this incredible window into humanity itself –
Dan: What makes us tick – why we do what we do – how or where we get gratification – where we’re frustrated – how things happen and so for me work has always been annalistically interesting. I’m sitting here at my desk, I have here on my desk this book that I read when I was ten years old that my mom brought home from the library, it’s called “Working” by Studs Terkel and it’s a book from 1974 that where Studs Terkel just went around and he talked to people about their work. If you look in the index here it’s all indexed by people’s profession so you have – so you have the farmworker, the farmer, the strip minder, the spot welder, the plant manager, the cab driver, the hotel clerk, the football coach, etc., etc. and it’s all these people just talk about their work and even as a ten year old, I found it really just endlessly fascinating and I still do, hearing people talk about their work. What do you do? What’s it like and again, so if there’s a thread, it’s that every single book I’ve done has been about work.
Jonathan: And you used work and then you used term what you do. How do you delineate or do you delineate work from let’s say, purpose?
Dan: Interesting. I think it varies from – interesting question – I think it varies from individual to individual. I think that for some people there is a – if you look at it like a Venn diagram okay, so it’s sort of like what’s your purpose and what’s your work and I think for some people they’re completely distinct. I think for some people there is a modest overlap and for some people there’s a bigger overlap.
Dan: And what concerns me in terms of people — their own satisfaction day-to-day in life and their own ability to contribute, I think if they’re completely different it’s not good.
Dan: But I think that there needs to be some overlap and depending on the individual’s preferences, predilectionsand things like that, it doesn’t have to be a complete overlap. There are people who get their purpose in sort of non-work realms –
Dan: So, they might get it through their church or their synagogue or their mosque or they might get it from coaching youth sports they might get it from volunteering in their community, although, I would argue that those things are kind of sort of like work too, they’re just unpaid work –
Dan: So, yeah, but I think people need to have some overlap. I think it’s hard to sustain yourself if there’s not some overlap.
Jonathan: How overlapping is your work with your purpose?
Dan: I think I’ve got a pretty good overlap – it’s not completely overlap, there’s some things that I wonder about and I don’t think it’s a – fixed state –
Dan: I think it’s always (Inaudible 00:17:40)and if one sees the surplus coming too far apart, that’s a sign it wants you to do something –
Dan: Or do something different.
Jonathan: Speaking of doing something different – obviously this has been a long and very successful journey up to this point, which is well deserved. What’s next for you on this journey?
Dan: Well, it’s a good thing you asked that in the context of your previous question. What I’m doing right now and my next big thing is for the first time ever I am starting in July of 2014, I’m going to take a six month sabbatical.
Dan: And I’m not going to be doing my regular work. My life has sort of two modes — hunker down, writing and researching and interviewing and then another part is like going out and talking about what I found out – doing interviews and going out and talking to three people in Henderson, Nevada about it and so what I’m going to do is actually take a little bit of a breather or refresher, a charging station…
Dan: And for six months I will not travel for work and not immediately start writing another book and just – part to hang out with my family –
Dan: And really think through in (Inaudible 00:19:00)way some of what I want the next big project to be.
Jonathan: Oh, that’s very cool and I also wanted to give you the opportunity, Dan, as I know at least from my experience as an author you have a book coming out, the book comes out, you got to talk about that book and then another book comes out and you have to talk about that book – if you could weave together the past 20 years of research, and interviews, in to like this – remember Dan Pink for this observation or this insight – what would that be? No pressure —
Dan: I think you need to take two of the core ideas in two of the books. I think that only mine fit the big idea there is that we’re moving from a world where core abilities are these SAT spreadsheet linear left brain abilities to one where the most important abilities are these artistic empathic and vented right brain abilities.
Dan: That’s – a fairly succinct way of driving (Inaudible 00:20:00) book and then if you look at the book “Drive” it shows that we really oversold carrot and stick motivators and undersold autonomy, mastery and purpose as motivators –
Dan: And then in “To Sell is Human” is that like it or not, we’re all in the persuasion and sales business today. A big part of what we do, but we’re doing it on this (Inaudible 00:20:20) remade landscape because it changes information and the way to do it better is to be actually more human about it, to be a better person rather than a more duplicitous person. So, that’s – the three out of five right there.
Jonathan: Dan, what I think of what you just said – when I think of your work it reminds me really of a combination of a renaissance and the old Greek philosophical times where individuals are really involved in art and deep thought and human connection, more than like laying brick or being treated like computers or farm animals.
Dan: Yeah, I appreciate that observation. I mean I appreciate your generosity of that observation, but I also think again I’m biased, I think that’s a very accurate observation. Even if there’s even a conceptual thread that goes through, when you get to the heart of it – when you get to the essence of what it means to enjoy work. What it means to contribute to work. What it means to be productive and creative at work, what it means for an organization’s architecture…
Dan: To promote those kinds of thing. What you see over and over again, both anecdotally both as you peer into the future, both when you look more deeply into the existence of social science research, that’s what we have to do more than anything else is create workplaces, job, organizations, that run with the grain of human nature –
Dan: Rather than against it –
Dan: And I think that there is a degree right now in our world where it’s very humanistic approach to work – going – people doing things that are fundamentally human is actually the pathway to doing things a little bit better and I don’t think that was always the case –
Dan: And so I think the observation is good – it might have been the case or it might have been at least modern interpretation of the case long, long ago –
Dan: But I think right now there is this kind of convergence between the humanistic values of treating people well – having empathy and understanding people’s perspective, of being good in all senses of the word that actually make one more effective at work, not less.
Jonathan: Brilliant. Well, Dan where can we go to learn about you and to grab a copy of your most recent book “To Sell is Human?”
Dan: Just go to danpink.com, D-A-N-P-I-N-K.com, I’m also on Twitter@danielpink, you know a good way to stay in touch with some of these things that I’m reading and thinking about is that I have a (Inaudible 00:22:50) irregular, irreverent newsletter, totally free, doesn’t cost anything, no advertising that a lot of people really like so, I read (Inaudible 00:23:00) articles that I’ve read, that I think you might be interested in – here are four apps that I’ve discovered that I think are pretty cool – that’s a very simple way to stay in touch with the kind of things that I’m writing about and thinking about.
Jonathan: Brilliant. Well, Dan, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today and for sharing your insights with the world, for the past 20 plus years.
Dan: Thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.
Jonathan: Awesome. Well, listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation as much as I did. Again our guest today is the brilliant Dan Pink. Definitely go check out his websites and subscribe to his newsletter. I do personally and it is fabulous and well worth your time and remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter – live smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.