Last summer, while on a road trip, I listened to the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink. It was about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and I was really struck by all that he had to say and how it related so wholeheartedly to schools. Well, in my life of unemployment in France, I have been looking for free ways to entertain myself when I am not playing the role of French housewife and was introduced to the website ted.com. I am now completely obsessed with TED talks, which are talks, given at a conference focusing on creativity and technology for smart, rich people…from what I can deduce.
The subject matter is incredibly varied and pretty much every researcher or writer that I enjoy reading, can be found at a TED conference. Everyone from Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire) to Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, What the Dog Saw, Outliers) to Edward O. Wilson (biologist and ethicist) to Isabel Allende (amazing fiction writer) to Dave Eggers (writer and screenplay author) to James Watson (as in Watson and Crick- the discoverers of the double helix structure!) can be found giving talks that are extremely interesting. They also have talks given by politicians and policy makers, scientific researchers, comedians, etc. Literally, just about every person who I have looked up (except Bill Bryson but maybe they are saving him for the future) has had a TED talk and the last few weeks since I learned about TED, I cannot get enough. It is also searchable by subject matter and person and so I waste a lot of time here. But, I am not going to consider it wasted time, because I am learning so much.
I am probably way behind the times and everyone else has known about this forever. So, sorry if you already do. Introducing people to TED is not really the point of this, I just thought that I needed to give the background knowledge to set the context for the video and the ensuing discussion. Now, to get to the point…
I found a TED talk by Daniel Pink pretty much summarizing his book into about 20 minutes. So, if you don’t have time to read it, you MUST watch the video. I think that business people and educators alike will really be struck by what he has to say.
Click on the link below to watch the video:
Just to give some further information about the book and the concept, here is a repost of a few paragraphs that I wrote last summer regarding the book.
"Pink talks about how our traditional societal views of motivation are outdated. Prior to the industrial revolution, motivation was purely linked to survival and people’s actions were all in the name of satisfying basic needs. As our society became industrialized, and basic needs were being met, motivation became more related to extrinsic rewards/punishments like a salary, a boss micromanaging your every move, or fear of job loss. Eventually, extrinsic rewards/punishments became things like bonuses, commissions, and sales incentives, and I would think, in an educational setting, we saw the advent of letter grades and office referrals.
He equated these different types of motivation to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (which we’ve all discussed frequently in pre-service teacher programs and don’t even get me started on grad school!). In the beginning, the survival motivation was like the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy. However, as we’ve developed as a society, we’ve moved up that pyramid, and we are now in the “self-actualizing” top portion. Because of this, Pink argues, the extrinsic reward/punishment motivation is no longer applicable in businesses and schools. The research has found that extrinsic motivators might work marginally in the very short-term, but over time, are ineffective. This sure is interesting when you consider schools are basically set up on an entire system of punishments and rewards- and mostly punishments when you really think about it.
The tasks that we are now asked to do in many jobs are not algorithmic tasks that simply require a pattern of repeated behaviors. For most of Western society’s large corporations, these tasks are the ones that have been outsourced. The modern workforce requires creativity and innovation and the research that Pink cites claims that our outdated extrinsic motivators actually stifle and dampen a person’s creative abilities and that we need to have a societal business/educational shift into intrinsic motivators. It is interesting to me that businesses require all of this creative thinking/tasks (Pink calls these "heuristic" tasks) and that in schools, we are still asking kids to do a lot of rote learning and trivial tasks. This idea is what really got me thinking about how this relates to classrooms and schools."
Also, all those weeks that I was required to have kids memorize pointless information (the minutiae of the iron blast furnace, the molecular structure of cast iron vs. wrought iron, the exact chemical reactions in the thermal decomposition of limestone, someone else’s bullet points as to why stem cell research was right/wrong, the list could continue for just about the rest of time…) there were only extrinsic motivators out there- the giant exams at the end. And, for the population of kids with whom I was working, they lacked intrinsic motivation by the time they were at the end of secondary school and a “sweeter carrot” or a “sharper stick” just wasn’t making a difference at all.
The system was so rigid and so overly structured that it didn’t allow for teachers to actually help students create intrinsic motivation. When I tried to do something outside of the ordinary for my juvenile delinquent section of kids, I was told instead that I should just have them copy notes straight out of the book or worse yet...give them a word search. Really? Really. I think that we forget sometimes that kids are humans. And, something an adult wouldn’t be motivated to do, a kid is likely not going to be motivated either. I know that there are some tasks that people “have” to do and part of being an adult is knowing how to have the perseverance to get through them. However, when your entire educational experience becomes one long stream of “just get through it,” which it was for many of my students, that is when the problems occur.
They FINALLY heard her. Some restructuring happened and now she is extremely busy and utilized at work and they have basically restored to her position autonomy, mastery, and purpose…and guess what…she is extremely motivated and has a renewed sense of her professional life.
Why can’t we do this for kids? What is stopping us? They "complain to their bosses" through misbehavior, lack of effort, and extreme malaise (not just general as was the case for my friend!). Life is short. Why do we make kids sit through at least 12 years and sometimes 16 years of non-engaging memorization? What purpose does this later serve society? I realize that I am fixated with this idea. But, the inane crap we ask kids to do that we would never want to do ourselves infuriates me. Oh, and then we punish them when they don’t want to do something we’d never do- further decreasing any chance that they might have some intrinsic motivation. We’ve got to make some changes and soon! Modern society and all of our futures will not wait. (For solutions, see the book “Focus” by Mike Schmoker).
This man found a way to genuinely motivate kids and I found it amazing and worth watching. Watch how these kids are learning…not memorizing because they are told to…because they are so genuinely interested in learning- when given autonomy, mastery, and purpose!