Dan Pink opened his keynote at the Vistage Think Big Conference by warning the audience his speech would not be drawn from his most recent book, To Sell is Human. Admittedly, this was a risk, especially since his book was a bestseller on the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal business lists. The “off script” Dan Pink turned out to be a special treat for the Vistage audience.
Pink shared three lessons he said he’d learned in his life from his research, writing, and also from being a father and husband.
Lesson #1: Passion is overrated. This brought out a few chuckles from the audience initially. Pink knew he was making a bold statement to challenge such a deeply entrenched buzzword as “passion.” You do not have to look far to find passion listed by most companies in job descriptions, mission statements and marketing materials.
Pink said when he was at a career crossroads in his life, well-meaning people would often ask him “What is your passion?” He said this question is nearly impossible to answer. Also, people often answer this questions incorrectly. The best nudge he received was from his wife who encouraged him to not think about passion, but to think about what he has consistently done in his life.
Despite various unfulfilling career paths (including higher profile jobs like speech writing for Al Gore), Pink had always found time to write. He said he had not chosen writing because it was especially easy for him. Passion is a “hot” emotion, but Pink says we should focus on the activities we are driven to do by more moderate emotions. When coaching leaders, he says, “Don’t annoy people by asking them, ‘What is your passion?,’ instead ask them ‘What do you do?’”
Lesson #2: Questions beat answers. How many times have you been about to walk into a tough meeting or important sale and told yourself, “I can do this!” Pink says this type of motivational self-talk is missing the mark. Instead, he says we will get better results by asking, “Can I do this?” This approach leads to an internal conversation which will be more productive than simple cheerleading.
For moving employees to act, Pink suggests replacing a cold directive with a simple question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you to…?” If they answer with a four rating, for example, ask them why they did not rate their readiness at a two.This approach forces the employee to rate, and evaluate, their own readiness. This quick introspection get them thinking about what is lacking to achieve a goal. Some of my table mates at lunch said they also could not wait to try this strategy with challenging customers.
Lesson #3: Make it purposeful and make it personal. Pink referenced a study of the alumni fundraising call center at the University of Michigan. The call center was divided into three groups who were asked to spend five minutes prior to making calls to do the following: one group did whatever they wanted, one group read letters from former call center employees and one group read letters from alumni who had benefitted personally from donations. The group who read the alumni letters greatly outperformed the others due to their direct connection with their job’s ultimate purpose. Are you reminding your employees why they do what they do every day?
Pink encouraged every individual to find their purpose by answering the question, “What’s your sentence?” In other words, what is the short, one sentence version of how you want to be remembered. Asking yourself will help direct you toward a path which will be successful and fulfilling. Asking employees this question will help you assist them to be in the right seat on your company’s bus, as Jim Collins would say. At the closing Q&A, he was asked what his “sentence” would be. Pink said, “He wrote books that helped people see their lives more clearly and live their lives more fully.” Judging from the rousing standing ovation when he was finished, I would say “Mission accomplished, Mr.Pink.”