Through the Education Lens

Are We Wrong About Motivation? Daniel Pink thinks so.

CJ Westerberg, August 11, 2010 4:28 PM


"Watch" Dan Pink's Book:  DRIVE

Do we really know what motivates us?  In the TED video below, Daniel Pink plays with our minds, challenging our notions of what makes us do more (or less) than we ever thought we would want to do.

It also gives us a glimpse into his book: DRIVE.  "There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does" is the theme of this talk, dispelling the "alarming assumptions and protocols built around carrot and stick" incentives and rewards.

Instead, Pink outlines three key motivators: autonomy, sense of mastery and sense of purpose.

Pink is author of a classic and influential best-seller, A Whole New Mind,  praised by Tom Peters as "a miracle," and by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman as "my favorite business book".  This book hails the critical importance of creative right- brain talent and skills (Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning), as they relate to a post-industrial, global, tech-centric world.  It's message is as relevant as ever.

Using behavioral science studies and evidence-based research to back up his findings for DRIVE,  Pink lets us know he's not messing around - that these "facts" are not some touchy-feely hunch.  He slams extrinsic motivators, declaring that studies prove "higher incentives led to worse performance" because they actually block and dull creativity.  These type of rewards work best for routine, rule-based, easy to automate tasks, such as assembly line work.
According to Pink, intrinsic motivation - connected to interests, passions, and so importantly, the larger sense of purpose and "how it matters" in the bigger picture - is the far more powerful motivator.   When it comes to real business situations today - how to solve this problem, how to adapt to this new situation - intrinsic delivers the "knock-out" punch to extrinsic motivation, hands down.

While Pink's talk revolves around how we operate in business, why not apply these science-based findings toward kids' motivation and learning?   If we did, then could one expect that for routine, rule-based student tasks like rote memorization, extrinsic motivators such as grades and test scores work as a motivator?   Should we also expect that as we go up the cognitive skill ladder to more complex tasks such as real problem solving, are we using the wrong motivators that are actually stifling creativity, further exploration and innovation?   And, worse yet, real motivation to learn more?

Clearly, fear is always a motivator.  So, is loathing.  But, that is another book entirely.
                                                                          - C.J. Westerberg
Previously published by The Daily Riff 2009  


Video Below is 18 min. - quickly engages after intro


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