Ninjas in Supply Chain (like yours truly), front-line customer service, Accounting, anywhere and everywhere are motivated by a number of factors.  It’s not necessarily fruit, either.  (From the popular mobile and Microsoft Kinect game Fruit Ninja.)  For some, motivation comes from factors such as a good work environment (next to a beach?), money, or other external factors called extrinsic motivators. For most, motivation comes from sources of intrinsic motivators such as vertical job ascension (read: promotions), recognition of work, and other internal, personal factors.

I recently stumbled upon a TED talk of Dan Pink back in July 2009: The puzzle of motivation.  What a great talk.  You can watch the video here. [1]

Dan discusses the people aspect of motivation and their true motivators — the battle of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.  In business school, half the students would argue money is a massive motivator.  However, money is also one of those factors which only causes workers to not only want more but people then tend to EXPECT compensation (salary bumps, bonuses, etc.) as normal procedure.  Dan adds that compensation actually motivates those with finite, discrete processes, but compensation does NOT motivate those with more challenging, innovative tasks.  In fact, “these contingent motivators — if you do this, then you get that — work in some circumstances but for a lot of tasks, they actually either don’t work or often, do harm.” [1] 

Dan cites several social experiments including the Candle Problem from 1945 by an American Psychologist named Karl Duncker [2].  Groups were tasked to attach a candle to a wall so that the wax does not drop onto the table.  An illustration of the materials is shown in the figure below [3].  

Sam Glucksberg, a Psychology Professor at Princeton University, pivoted on the Candle Problem by gathering participants and challenged them to solve the problem based on: 1) solve to help establish norms vs. 2) incentivize monetary incentives (top 25% of fastest times earn $5; fastest time earns $20).  The incentivized group solved the problem faster than the group who were tasked to help establish norms.  NOT!  The incentivized group actually solved the problem 3.5 minutes SLOWER than the group without the incentives!  (I tricked you, didn’t I?)

Another iteration was performed on the Candle Problem… I won’t describe it now, but I’ll let you watch Dan’s video for more information.  What Glucksberg found was that incentives only motivate people when the path to solve are explicit and known — a concept Dan Pink touches on called Functional Fixedness.  Incentives actually do NOT foster innovation and creativity!  Who would have thought?!  This tells us that today’s motivation and incentives programs are actually hampering people from using their creativity to solve problems!

This TED talk was one of the best I’ve heard (and there are many on TED).  There has been so much attention recently regarding intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators.  This TED Talk further supports intrinsic motivation as THE way to foster creativity and innovation and to ultimately higher performing and happier employees.  The incentives today of if-then only dulls creativity, and will continually hamper people from thinking creatively to solve today’s problems.  So as leaders in our respective domains, remember to motivate fellow Ninjas with intrinsic motivators and as Dan Pink says, “we can strengthen our businesses, we can solve a lot of those candle problems, and maybe, maybe, maybe, we can change the world.” [1]

[1] Ted (August 2009). Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation. In Ted. [Website]. Retrieved September 19, 2012, from

[2] Wikipedia contributors. “Candle problem.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Sep. 2012. Web. 19 Sep. 2012.

[3] Dewey, Russ (2007). From Puzzles. Intro Psych. [Website]. Retrieved September 19, 2012, from

During my wait for the bus this morning, I did my daily ritual of scanning a select set of websites.  And this morning on CNNMoney, I read an excellent (and lengthy) article about Nick Saban, Head Coach of University of Alabama’s football program.  Titled “Leadership Lessons from Nick Saban” (see the article here — actually, this article will be in the September 24th issue of Fortune), I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

Throughout the article, I smiled and laughed.  No, it’s not a funny, humorous article.  Instead, it reinforces so much that I’ve been thinking, and what I’ve been hearing throughout my consulting experience and in business school.  

Coach Saban developed what is referred to in the locker rooms in Tuscaloosa (and his prior stops at Michigan State, LSU, etc.) as The Process.  Instead of focusing on W’s, Saban preaches to his players to trust The Process.  Trust the coaching and fellow team members’ skills.  “Saban keeps his players and coaches focused on execution — yes, another word for process — rather than results” [1].  Coach Saban firmly believes in what he coaches, and luckily, it’s worked out quite well for him.  The article continues…

[…] Sound like your typical chief executive? “I think it’s identical,” Saban says, digging into his salad. “First of all, you’ve got to have a vision of ‘What kind of program do I want to have?’ Then you’ve got to have a plan to implement it. Then you’ve got to set the example that you want, develop the principles and values that are important, and get people to buy into it.” [1]

Coach Saban structures his program around his own core values, and the whole of the community of the University of Alabama, not just its football players, benefit from his leadership.  Since Coach Saban took over the reins at Alabama, the program has held the number 2 position in football players’ graduation rate in the SEC (after Vanderbilt) for the last 3 years.  Saban even helps coordinate his players to do philanthropy having provided aid to tornado victims last year.  All this while producing a National Championship this past January, 8 first-round draft picks the last two years, and so much more.

All through the article, the article’s author Brian O’Keefe details the diligence and sheer commitment to the program and his players.  Commitment including some hard-nosed recruiting that prompted the NCAA to create the “Saban Rule” (limits the travel of coaches to potential recruits — Saban apparently now Skypes with many recruits).  Terry Saban (the Coach’s wife) shares the stress and passion Coach Saban has for perfection. It’s not just about winning or doing something well… it’s about the opportunity to improve.  “You should always ‘evaluate success’. Even when you win, you should study what you could have done better and plan how to improve next time.”[1]

Success comes from the top-down.  Success is bred from Leaders like Coach Saban who instill positive cultures and ethics.  Success is the result of hardwork and dedication.  Coach Saban has his goals (to win Championships, to enable his players to reach their goals and achieve greatness), but he doesn’t focus on the results.  He follows the Process.  Three National Championships, NFL players aplenty, loving family… yeah, I think the Process works pretty well.

[1] O’Keefe, Brian.  Leadership Lessons from Nick Saban.  In CNNMoney. [Website]. Retrieved September 7, 2012, from