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Pink, Duhigg, and Graeber Conversation’s Scenario

I assume that Dan Pink, Charles Duhigg, and David Graeber would discuss the issues of motivation and the related themes as they are specialists in this field. Dan Pink would begin the conversation with the thesis that time does not stand still – living and working conditions constantly change. Managers began to think about the time to change the system of motivation, which is based on external factors, that is when they reward the good and punish the bad. Both Duhigg and Graeber would agree on this point as they both advocate innovative approaches to management and motivation.

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Pink could describe his motivation system that is based on the idea that people are motivated in the long run by intrinsic motivation, not a stick and carrot system. It is based on three key elements: freedom of choice, skill, and having a worthy goal. The author assumes that these components are formed by employees independently, and the task of managers is to create the most comfortable conditions for their implementation. However, Duhigg would reasonably mention here that such a motivation system is more suitable for people who are in Maslow’s pyramid above level 3. He would note that our brain is designed in a completely amazing way: as soon as one repeats an action a few times, it immediately turns it into a habit. The reason is simple – the brain saves energy so as not to spend it on daily activities such as getting dressed, preparing dinner, or parking the car. Hence, if the stick and carrot approach is accepted and repeated, it cannot be replaced easily.

In turn, Pink would say that autonomy is an essential factor in this regard and consists of 4 major areas. First, it is independence in the choice of the problem. Companies such as Google are actively using the following practice – during the day, 20% of the working time, each employee can do whatever he wants, not even work. The most interesting thing is that it is during this period of time, when everyone defines a task for themselves, that the most innovative ideas in companies are being invented. Second, it is the self-management of time. The main idea of this point is that the employer buys from employees, not the time spent on work, but the result. Third, it is independence in the choice of methods to achieve the task. Fourth, it is a team – this is the most complicated point. After all, it is difficult to create a situation where employees could choose who to work with. However, one can provide conditions in which people voluntarily create project teams. After all, one of the reasons why entrepreneurship attracts is the opportunity to create one’s own team.

Pink would continue that we are beginning to notice the discrepancy between scientific knowledge and everyday business practice. The existing carrot-and-stick system starts to lose its effectiveness, especially as the next generation reaches the working age. Therefore, one should pay attention to the new system of motivation, which contains three essential elements: autonomy – the desire to manage life; mastery – the need to develop in some important business; purposefulness – the desire to do what we do for some greater purpose than our individual existence.

At this point, Duhigg could claim and emphasize again that Pink’s rationale is significant but pays less attention to the issue of habits within the scope given. Interestingly, to trigger this mechanism, the brain needs to receive a signal, a kind of “cue”, and after performing actions – a “reward”. It is in such a simple way as “cue-routine-reward” that all our habits are formed, after which they are firmly fixed in the structure of our brain. It is even more surprising that they do not disappear anywhere, even over time, and when the “cue” appears, they begin to function perfectly again. Along with such good habits as ice skating or the ability to embroider, harmful addictions coexist in our brains at the same time – cravings for smoking or alcohol, junk food, and many others.

The author is convinced that by knowing about the mechanism of the formation of the so-called habit loop, one can learn to notice the very cues and rewards, and eventually change even the most ingrained habits. However, it is not as simple as it may seem. Another element of the habit loop is the craving that arises in our brains when the brain suddenly does not receive a reward. It is this component that turns an ordinary habit into a long-term one, which becomes much more difficult to get rid of. But there is also a positive point – you can form a passionate desire yourself. You can learn to control desire by triggering it in the right situation to form a new good habit.

Duhigg would talk about how successful organizations form habits that become an integral part of the lives of employees. Most companies strengthen their employees’ habit of self-discipline by developing clear algorithms for them to act in any work situation. At the same time, each employee has the opportunity to independently make a decision and completely control the situation, which has an extremely positive effect on strengthening his willpower. Now, Pink and Duhigg would agree that their further elaboration on the concepts should take into account the findings of each other.

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Then, David Graeber would note a few notable points. He could say that the arguments of Pink and Duhigg are focused mostly on the internal aspects of motivation. However, the external environment should be explored as well – it is not as favorable as it seems nowadays. Some professions are more or less delusional – marketers, sales agents, assorted optimization consultants, and performance trainers. Others look meaningful, but in practice, it boils down to writing reports and presentations, filling out forms, aimless meetings, and just sitting in the office from nine to six. Even those professions that are, in theory, necessary for society (teachers, doctors, social workers) are increasingly being “bullshit”: an incredible amount of time and effort in them are taken up by bureaucratic fuss.

Graeber would claim that this is a strange situation. Throughout the twentieth century, the ideologists of scientific and technological progress predicted the liberation of man, and the automation of labor promised that we would work less and less. Some were fascinated by this promise, others worried, but almost no one noticed that it actually came true. About half of the world’s population is actually unemployed. People either generate delusions or are forced to serve the producers of delusions (clean their offices, carry food for them). We could easily work much less, live for our own pleasure, and be engaged in creativity, politics, and love. Instead, we work as much as ever before in human history. There is practically no time left for the rest.

Graeber would describe in detail the types of “bullshit jobs”, classify them, and talk about the evolution of their forms. “Bullshit jobs” themselves can be read as a macabre satire on the modern world. Part of Graeber’s wit, his ability to detach from everyday experience, seems to be related to his profession. After this conversation, the three authors could develop their theories finding the balance between the analysis of internal and external factors of motivation.

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