Monthly Archives: January 2011

Dan Pink’s new message – What motivates us at work place?

Here is an interview and a RSA episode which illustrate Dan Pink’s core message published in his new book „Drive – The surprising truth about what motivates us“ (his last one was „ A Whole New Mind“). If there is any truth in what Mr. Pink, the former speech writer of Al Gore says, then we’ll seriously need to rethink our notions about motivation at workplace. And applying these to our educational institutions will be an interesting exercise. Let me know your thoughts.

Pink’s message in a nutshell: Our traditional understanding of motivation is – if you reward what you want then you’ll get more of it,  if you punish what you don’t want, there will be less of it. This ‚carrot and the stick’ model is greatly succesful to motivate people doing routine tasks, but miserable for motivating people to do creative, conceptual tasks.

The first Video (PBS News) shows a rather remarkable experiment – Two groups of people were chosen to find creative solutions to a certain assignment. One group was offered money proportional to their time taken to come up with the solution, and the other group got no money for solving the problem. The first group took double the time than those who received no money!

… and here is a RSA visualization”

The moral of the story: Large rewards lead to poor performance. Creative work needs more human and less material incentives. Rewarding the top performers is good for mechanical tasks and bad for even rudimentary cognitive skills. This defies the laws of ‚behavioural physics’. But beware, this doesn’t mean less money will make us more creative!                                                                                                    Now, what are these non-material incentives?

The new law of motivation physics discovered by Dan in the age of knowledge economy is: First, get the money issue from the table – people need to be paid enough, so that they don’t have to think about money. Second, acknowledge the three driving forces for creativity at workplace  1) Autonomy, 2) Mastery and 3) Purpose

1) Autonomy: Atlassian, an Australian IT company has introduced a day of ‚free work’ at regular intervals, where employees can do whatever they want to do and whoever they want to do it with. However, they have to report what they have done at the end of the 24 hours. This experiment unleashed  great enthusiasm and creative energy, and much to the employers delight, a whole array of new products. Autonomy is about ‚self directed engagement’. This is something creative people are obviously pretty hungy about.

2) Mastery: We have an intrinsic need to get better at stuff.  It can be in playing musical instruments, painting pictures, making jewellery, cooking great food etc. In fact, a whole new (multi-billion dollar) industry known as ‚open source’ has sprung up around this human trait.  „A strange economic behaviour of  people to go home after work and do things for free for someone else and not for the employer“(D.Pink). Is the driving force behind this that what makes us tick ? In any case, this cannot be motivated by material incentives.

3) Purpose: More and more people seem to need a transcendent purpose at work (I guess for life in general). And apparently, more and more companies are animating themselves by being more ‚purpose oriented’ than ‚profit oriented’. Human beings are ‚purpose maximizers not profit maximizers’ (D. Pink)

And here is a summary of Pink’s three points on what ‚drives’ employees:

a) we want to be self directed;                                                                                                      b) we care about mastery very, very deeply;                                                                              c)  and if we start treating people like people with a need to fulfill a purpose and not like horses and get past the ideology of carrot and stick … then we can make our organizations better off and maybe even make the world a better place.

…we won’t discuss the dangers of new subtle forms of exploitation here…but I think Dan Pink has some points here that are very significant for educational planners. The three points are in themselves nothing new, but if they have some validity at workplaces, as Pinks has shown by embedding them in the new context of workplace requirements of the future, then they are of significant relevance to our educational institutions as well. Then, we’ll have to ask ourselves: how do we respond to the needs of students in ‚autonomous, self-directed’ learning ? How do we give them the opportunity to exercise ‚mastery’? How do we create an atmosphere of ‘purpose’?

This is a call for teachers and parents to be open about understanding the incentives that DRIVE our STUDENTS, and be be ready for surprises, rather than impose our industrial age assumptions still deeply ingrained in our institutional genes.

Here is a video with Dan Pink at a Texas Senate Hearing on Education!

Here is another speech i found on TED:

… and this is his website