Dan Pink on Motivation – and his subtle use of stories

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —September 18, 2009
Filed in Business storytelling

Dan Pink TED talk has an important message: what scientists know about the detrimental effects of incentives remains largely unknown and unpractised by managers. He argues, which I totally agree, that we need to create workplaces which provide autonomy, possibility for mastery and purpose. These factors truly motivate us.

The video, see below, is also interesting for how Dan users stories. Take a look first then I will make some comments below.

Dan is very aware of the power of stories. In his book, A Whole New Mind, he dedicates a chapter to how important storytelling is as a skill. But he also knows that business people are scared by the term and when they hear the word ‘story’ they assume what is being said is made up, fluffy, unbusiness-like. So Dan frames his presentation as a legal case, focussed on the evidence, with the full persuasive power of the best legal minds (mind you he does some lovely self-deprecation at the start of the talk to connect with the audience).

Dan even goes as far as saying, “this is not a story, it is a fact …”

But here’s the thing. Dan’s talk is full of stories. In fact he employs one of my favourite story patterns: the scientific experiment. Scientific experiments are great because to explain them you have to tell what the scientist did and when and the best ones of some unanticipated result–terrific elements for a story.

I counted 7 stories in Dan’s presentation (one every 2. minutes or so). Quite a few for someone is telling the audience that he is not telling a story.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Roberta says:

    Yeah, I loved this presentation, a very engaging style. I also found this presentation from Chris Abani on ted very moving:
    It’s a great skill to be able to make an audience laugh and cry with your stories.

  2. Adrian says:

    I loved this presentation too. Then I saw it again delivered at a different conference webcast.
    Same stuff, different audience, with different reasons for being there and a different environment..bigger stage, room etc. But the impact the second time wasn’t as engaging as the first.
    So while these presentations’ content and delivery from Dan were almost identical, I began to think how the other environmental factors helped to emphasise or dilute the impact of the story. And is this perception just through the video’s production “transformation” of the original?

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