What do Google's Gmail, Ericsson's #1 telecom switching systems and Southwest Airlines' Ticketless Passenger Travel all have in common? Yes, they're all spectacular business successes, but what most people don't know is that they're also the direct result of employees working on their own time to solve problems and innovate above and beyond their daily tasks.

Here's another perspective on this reality: What science knows and what business does are 2 different things. These words from a TED talk from Daniel Pink were echoing through my cranium as I polished off my second glass of my brother's famous 1000 calorie-a-glass eggnog last Christmas Eve. When an idea is intriguing enough to occupy my thoughts on Christmas, it's gotta be good.

What got me noodling about all of this was a few days before Christmas, I was asked to come up with ideas for our May Forum on how workforce computing can drive better customer outcomes, and Dan Pink's "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" which I was reading at the time gave me some fresh fuel to spark my synapses. Pink draws his inspiration from the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – a former University of Chicago behavioral psychologist now at the Drucker Institute, famous for his work in uncovering the conditions necessary for people to be intrinsically motivated to do their best work.

"Mike" as his followers call him proved beyond a doubt that the moment a job requires more than rudimentary cognitive thought, that extrinsic motivators (e.g. money, bonuses, pay-for-performance) are actually counterproductive. More importantly for this discussion, he also showed that the mind can enter a state of 'flow' under the right conditions, where the hours melt away and the person becomes totally consumed by what they're working on. I have experiences like this when I write or read a captivating book. We can also see it when people play video games, drive a race car, garden or write software code. The conditions of flow are:

  • Autonomy – working independently toward a goal with the freedom to choose the best path for their own strengths and limits to get there.
  • Mastery – the inherent desire to continuously home and improve our skills – eg playing the guitar.
  • Purpose – the belief that what we're working on is important and matters more than ourselves.

Zappos' CEO, Tony Hsieh, is famous for his work in creating an environment where people routinely choose to do great work – especially customer service – because they feel intrinsically motivated to do it. The opposite of autonomy is control, and since they sit at different poles of the behavioral compass, they point us toward different destinations. Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement. This has significant implications for your workforce computing strategy.

My colleague Christian Kane and I were captivated immediately by this and quickly scoured the business universe for others actively applying these principles in business to test several theories. We found and interviewed several, including Stefan Falk – former VP of Strategic Programs for Ericsson who worked closely with "Mike" over the years, Patrick Hoverstadt, author of "The Fractal Organization", Jim Stikeleather – Chief Innovation Officer at Dell and author of "Business Innovation in the Cloud: Executing on Innovation With Cloud Computing".

Long story short, Christian and I were able to make clear connections between Csikszentmihalyi's work, highly successful industry practitioners, Forrester's extensive body of Empowered research, our extensive workforce employee survey data, and our deep knowledge of workforce computing technologies and best practices to form both a compelling case for engagement, and a technology enablement strategy to bring it to life. We believe this work can serve as a North Star of sorts to guide decision-making to better balance security and compliance demands to foster engagement and performance.

Without giving it all away, I'll simply say that BYOD is practically required equipment in this model, and we're thrilled to be able to share our early findings with you in Washington DC in May and London in June. Don't miss it!