Motivation 3.0: Interview with Daniel Pink

IN THIS ISSUE SPRING 2010

Daniel Pink on Educating for High Performance
Author: Jair Robles

Bestselling author Daniel Pink considers himself a “data geek.” His drive to compile and analyze information has led him to identify the trends that are shaping today’s business environment. He has become one of the most sought after lecturers on economic transformation and the new workplace for corporations, associations, and universities around the world.

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Motivation 3.0

Pink’s works include A Whole New Mind, Free Agent Nation, and The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. His articles on business and technology have appeared in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company and Wired. His most recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, is based on forty years of studies on behavioral science and concludes that “the secret to high performance and satisfaction – at work, at school, and at home – is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

SuperConsciousness Magazine spoke with Pink about the concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose, their role in education and how they will shape our future.

SC: You have explored different models of motivation, including the one based on external rewards and punishments, which is quickly becoming obsolete. Can you address some of the research you came across and how this would apply to children and education?

DP: The main argument is that we tend to build most of our businesses and organizations and even our schools around carrots and sticks, this idea of these ‘if/then’ rewards – if you do this, then you get that.

Those kinds of motivators work in certain circumstances, but they don’t work for creative and conceptual tasks. And they also have some big downsides; they can crush intrinsic motivation, they can impair creativity, they can reduce performance, and they can encourage people to cheat. And so I think that our over-reliance on these kinds of things is very dangerous.

This is not a philosophy or a moral argument; this is what the science tells us. Forty years of research tells us these sorts of things don’t work very well and that there’s a better way out there, that if we provide more autonomy, allow people to work towards mastery and plug people into a purpose, people will perform at a higher level.

Forty years of research tells us that if we provide more autonomy, allow people to work towards mastery and plug people into a purpose, people will perform at a higher level.

SC: It appears that the current evaluation system in schools, like report cards and discipline slips, fall within the “if/then” external rewards system. Do you think this has a negative effect on children’s education?

DP: It depends on how they’re used. Let’s take a report card: Ideally the whole point of school is to learn stuff and get better at stuff and achieve mastery and so in that sense, people need feedback. The only way to get better at something is to have a sense of how you’re doing and to get regular good feedback on your performance.

To some extent grades can do that; it is one way to get feedback. It isn’t the only way to get feedback, and I’m not sure that it’s necessarily used as feedback as much as it is as an end in itself. So you have people who study hard not to learn stuff but to get a good grade.

There’s a lot of research out there that shows that if you have that pure performance goal and not a learning goal, you end up retaining less over the long haul and you end up being less flexible and wide ranging in how you apply that knowledge.

This is not to say that grades are all bad. What it means to say is that we really need feedback. Kids and all people who are trying to move toward mastery need feedback. And that feedback needs to be rich and regular and substantive and if grades do that, that’s great, but I think in general they typically do not.

SC: In Drive, you discuss examples of schools that are implementing a system where the kids themselves set their own goals and they do their own evaluations, which become part of their overall evaluations. Can you share with us what you found in regards to that type of feedback and performance reporting?

DP: There are a lot of good examples of schools and institutions of people doing things in a fundamentally different way. If you look at the people who are homeschooling kids and doing un-schooling where the kids are directing a lot of the learning, those kids end up learning quite a bit and being extraordinarily happy.

If you look at the schools like The Big Picture Schools where the kids’ interests determine the curriculum, those schools are doing remarkable work with kids from low-income areas. There are a lot of good models out there for approaching education in a way that’s not pure carrots and sticks.

SC: You talk about a new operating system, Motivation 3.0, which is based on autonomy, purpose and mastery. Throughout the book, you refer to children as innately drawn to being autonomous and wanting to master things. Would that make helping them find their purpose in life one of the most important roles left to education?

DP: Well, I’m not sure about that. I think that could be part of what education does. It’s not only the school’s responsibility; it’s the individual’s responsibility to figure that out. It’s family’s responsibility. To some extent, people will draw on their church or their synagogue or their mosque to help figure that out.

I think when it comes to purpose and education, part of it is that kids need to know why they’re doing things. A lot of times we teach things in a vacuum. So if you’re learning something about science, you need to apply it; or understand how it has some kind of impact in the real world.

If you’re learning something about history, you might be able to analogize what’s going on in The Civil War to something that was going on today, so you realize, why do we study history? To me, the purpose part for education is really to inject a little bit of relevance and a context for kids. I think we also have too much separation among the disciplines. So we frog march these kids from math to science to social studies to English, and not often enough help them make connections between all those disciplines.

Motivation 3.0

SC: If Motivation 3.0 becomes the prevailing operating system of a society, would that lead to increased ethical behavior and what some have called a moral society?

DP: It might be in the sense that it’s hard to cheat on your third drive, it’s hard to cheat on intrinsic motivation. So I think there would be maybe a little bit less nefarious behavior. But human beings are always going to behave nefariouslyno matter where they are. Maybe it’ll be marginally less.

SC: How do you perceive the future if this model that you are talking about becomes the predominant operating system within society, corporations, and schools?

DP: I think we’re a long way off before it’s the prevailing model. I’m not sure there are always going to be some unintended consequences in any kind of change. I think we’re not going to have the economies that we’ve had in this country especially over the last thirty years of this endless boom, bust cycle.

There is going to be growth and progress, but it’s not going to be in these massive spikes upward and then these huge descents downward. Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves, or we haven’t scrutinized it enough, that is just OK, that that’s normal, that’s how it works.

I think what we’re going to see, though, is that the profit motive is going to be increasingly paired with this purpose motive and that the two are not inherently at odds; that they can work together and a profit motive without a purpose motive is actually less effective.

SC: Do you think that this would also lead people to think more long-term?

DP: I think you identified something really important there about the difference between these two operating systems. Motivation 2.0 is very much about the short term. And the shortterm matters, but the long-term matters more. I think that could be a big change, because mastery is something that takes place over the long term.

If we end up moving to a society that is a little bit more about the long term, a little bit less about the quick score, I think it’s a better society, but I also think it’s a better economy. It’s actually more prosperous in the long term.

Purpose is something that is discovered and then acted upon over the long term. To some extent autonomy is the same way, that is, it’s not a matter of having the freedom to come and go to your office whenever you want this Wednesday, it’s really about, are you able to direct your own life? I think that distinction is hugely important.

If we end up moving to a society that is a little bit more about the long term, a little bit less about the quick score, I think it’s a better society, but I also think it’s a better economy. It’s actually more prosperous in the long term.

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This article appeared in the SPRING 2010 ISSUE, Click Here to Order

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