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« Where to start as a writer for professional publications | Main | Old folks and technology »

Drive: Pink on motivation

I've had the poster from which this clip is taken hanging in every office I've had since about 1979. Drawn by Sam Gross for the New Yorker, it pretty much summarizes my view on work and motivation - make your work its own reward. Or as I like to quote Anne Dillard writing, "You do what you do out of your private love of the thing itself."

So it's been with great pleasure that I just finished reading a pre-publication copy of Daniel Pink's newest book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. (I was lucky enough to get the copy since Mr. Pink and his publicist liked my son's review of his last book.) As Blue Skunk readers know, I am a Daniel Pink fan - finding both A Whole New Mind and Johnny Bunko readable, fascinating and important. And I am very happy to report that Drive continues the Pink's streak of "must-read" books for educators - well, for everyone.

Drive attempts to answer questions like: How do you explain the success of Wikipedia, open source software and other recent ventures in which creators/ participants do not reap a financial reward? Why has the U.S. economy done so poorly this decade? Why has there been such an increase in voluntarism in our society? And what can businesses learn about motivating individuals who value non-monetary rewards?

Pink examines the evolution of human motivation from what he describes as Motivation 1.0 (eat or be eaten) to Motivation 2.0 (reward = more of a behavior; punishment = less of a behavior) to Motivation 3.0 (intrinsic motivation). Those most driven by Motivation 3.0 he labels as Type I individuals who need autonomy, mastery and purpose in their work.

The book does a great job in tracing the history of motivational theory. One of its strongest chapters is on why extrinsic rewards (carrots and sticks) don't work very well. Pink's conclusions echo Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards (see Creating Fat Kids Who Don't Like to Read). Kohn's book along with Csikszentmihalyi's Flow are among "15 Essential Books" for Type I readers Pink lists. This popularization of the study of motivation should be required reading by all educational policy makers.

Drive resonated with me on three levels:

1. What does Motivation 3.0 tell us about how we "do" school? Pink dedicates a "toolkit" just to parents and teachers. In it, he offers a "3-part Type I Test for Homework" in which he suggest teachers to ask these questions about any assignment:

  • Am I offering students any autonomy over how and when to do this work?
  • Does this assignment promote mastery by offering a a novel, engaging task (as opposed to rote reformulation of something already covered in class)?
  • Do my students understand the purpose of the this assignment? That is, can they see how doing this additional activity at home contributes to the larger enterprise in which the class is engaged?

Pink also summarizes Carol Dweck's work about the difference between performance goals and learning goals. "Getting an A in French is a performance goal. Being able to speak French is a learning goal."

2. What does Motivation 3.0 tell us about how we "manage" both our technology staff and our teachers? My sense is that most teachers and certainly librarians already fall into the Type I motivational category. We are motivated not by our (enormous) salaries but by autonomy, purpose and mastery. But the current political climate is removing a good deal of Type I motivation from schools. Pay for student performance on test scores, teacher-proofing curricula and other dubious means of trying to add accountability to the profession are leeching the art and creativity from the practice.

Oh, this need for autonomy by Type I librarians certainly helps explain why fixed schedules are so unpopular in the profession!

As a "manager" I've always done my best to keep from micro-managing my staff and giving them as much autonomy as possible. What I can do better is more fully discuss the purpose behind our tech's important work. Sigh...

3. What does Motivation 3.0 tell me about myself? As I examine my own career path, I think I've become increasingly Type I - intrinsically motivated. Moving from the classroom to the library to an administrative job certainly has increased my autonomy. And I've always wanted just enough money so that I don't really need to worry much about money. Sorry kids, no big inheritance.

This book might also help those of us who blog, who work on open source software, who put our work in the Creative Commons, who volunteer, who seem to do a lot of work without any direct compensation understand why we do these things instead of (or in addition) to playing golf.

And finally, the book's chapter on "Mastery" helps me understand why I've never written an article, never given a talk or never taught a lesson that couldn't be improved. Tweaking, revising, improving - it's never ending fun!

Pink's own words serve as a fine conclusion:

We know that human beings are not merely smaller, slower, better-smelling horses galloping after that day's carrot. We know - if we've spent time with young children or remember ourselves at our best - that we are not destined to be passive and compliant, but designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren't when we're clamoring for validation from others, but when we're listening to our own voice - doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause greater than ourselves.

Add this book to your personal collection. It would make a great professional discussion read as well. I get the sense Pink facing a huge uphill battle in changing minds and actions among our leaders about motivation - especially those in business.

But at least he (and I hope some of us) can at least say, "We tried."


Oh, click on the poster to go to the original cartoon on the New Yorker site.


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Reader Comments (4)

Can't wait to read the book! I am currently working with our 12th grade English Teacher on a project called "How will YOU change the world?". Our idea was based on one of your posts. We are asking the kids to find their passions and research how they will use their passions and talents to make a difference. Here are the preliminary ideas proposed last spring. We are working out the details as we go. 12th Grade English Research Project Ideas.

We are using Pink's "Johnny Bunko" & "A Whole New Mind" among other resources. Sir Ken Robinson's book "The Element" also speaks to this topic. Education is all about finding what is essential to who we are - and figuring out a way to spend our life doing what motivates us - what makes us feel that we are in our "element".

To use one of my British family's favorite sayings - the kids are feeling "gob-smacked" about the whole project. They are used to having their research papers outlined for them .... gather info about the topic, produce 5 pages, make sure to use x number of sources, be sure to include ... blah, blah, blah..... We've given them minimal direction for this. Many don't know what to do. They are simply not used to being asked what is important to them. It will be interesting to watch what they do - once they stop whining and begging for direction :-)

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie Henry

Hi Jacquie,

This is a truly amazing example of what Pink is promoting. I hope he reads it.

I've always thought good teaching practices benefit teachers as much as they do kids!

All the best and happy holidays!


December 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I just received an audio version of Drive which I ordered immediately after a recent NPR interview with Mr. Pink. I am a Culinary Arts instructor and have returned to school myself for Career and Technical Education classes. The interview and CD, this blog and the classes I am attending very much support my previously confused views of parenting and education. I am so grateful and excited to have come across this now and to implement this into my program.
Thank you.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBetty Palmer

Hi Betty,

I see that Pink has an article in Scholastic Admin this month Jan/Feb 10) too.

Thanks for the comment,


February 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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