Monday, February 21, 2011

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead, 2009.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink is a book aimed at uncovering the "untruths" of motivation.

The book gives insight about answering a number of questions revolving around motivation. What motivates you to do your best work and how do you get the most out of the people that work for you? If you reward something you get MORE of the behavior you want? If you Punish something do you get less of the behavior you want? These questions as well as numerous studies that looked at incentivizing tasks to improve performance were fascinating. The underlying and repeated theme in the book seems to be, giving people autonomy increases productiveness in the the workplace as well as increases employee job satisfaction.

I was struck by how easy and motivating reading this book was. I have never been someone who reads a lot of books. I enjoy reading once I get into it, but most of the times I enjoy “doing” something more. However I find I can reach a sustained state of “flow” when it comes to reading something with a purpose in order to “do” something later or in conjunction that something is important to my immediate relevance to my life.

I took much of what I quickly read in this book back to my colleagues and administrators at my school site. I have two teachers that are interested in reading the book now that I’m finished with it. About halfway through Drive, I started to pick up Kathleen Cushman’s book Fires in The Mind and made many connections between Pink’s ideas and how Cushman put those ideas to work in the classroom. I was also inspired to read a few chapters from Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s books Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Creativity. Pink credits much of what he learned from Csikszentmihaly’s publications and makes concise connections to today’s workplace.

A theme that seems to appear frequently in the book is the idea of paying people a decent wage for the job they do. Pink states, “If you pay people enough, money won’t be an issue for work performance. They stop thinking about money and actually think about the work they have to do”. This simple idea came as a “No Brainer” to me but then I began to think of scenarios where this might be abused by dishonest people or the complexities of analyzing job performance and wondered how a companies are dealing with this. Throughout the section Pink also talks about performance reviews that people can give themselves to analyze their own productiveness and job satisfaction. The chapter discusses a very relevant issue facing education at this moment in time. How do we successfully evaluate the effectiveness of our teachers? We cannot solely rely on the results of our students state mandated test to judge a teacher effectiveness or value to a school. There has to be another system to ensure that great teachers are accessible to any student.

The section that I spent the most time investigating was in Part 2 of the book discussing the three elements of Intrinsic Motivation, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. It begins by discussing our origins as humans and our “default setting”. “When we enter the world, are we wired to be passive and inert or are we wired to be active and engaged?” Pink’s explanation for student and adult boredom and apathy in school and the workplace is that somewhere, throughout our development and education, our “default setting” of being active and engaged has been taught out of us. Pink sites Deci and Ryan in stating, “Autonomous motivation involves behaving with a full sense of volition and choice, whereas controlled motivation involves behaving with the experience of pressure and demand toward specific outcomes that comes from the forces perceived to be external to the self.” The studies and theories of autonomy are conveyed simply to the reader in a way that motivated me to read more frequently, re-read sections, take notes and further research the topics on my own. When discussing changes to management pink states, “This era doesn’t call for better management. It calls for a renaissance of self-direction.”

These ideas started to resonate loudly within my own journal writing and in conversations with colleagues.

I found the brief section on Five Steps Closer to Mastery to be a great starting point to discuss mastery with students and teachers. I read this part of the book to my classes and they had many thoughts and ideas about how they could use these steps to improve their mastery of a skill, topic, or any area of interest. I included the entire section below.

“One key to mastery is what Florida State University psychology professor Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate practice” – a lifelong period of…effort to improve performance in a specific domain.” Deliberate practice isn’t running a few miles each day or banging on the piano for 20 minutes each morning. It’s much more purposeful, focused, and yes, painful. Follow these steps – over and over again for a decade – and you just might become a master:

  • Remember that deliberate practice has one objective: To improve performance. “People who play tennis once a week for years don’t get any better if they do the same thing each time” Ericsson has said. “Deliberate practice is about changing your performance, setting new goals and straining yourself to reach a bit higher each time.”
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition matters. Basketball greats don’t shoot ten free throws at the end of team practice; they shoot five hundred.
  • Seek constant, critical feedback. If you don’t know how you’re doing, you won’t know what to improve.
  • Focus ruthlessly on where you need help. While many of us work on what we’re already good at, says Ericsson, “those who get better work on their weaknesses.”
  • Prepare for the process to be mentally and physically exhausting. That’s why so few people commit to it, but that’s why it works.



From Compliance to Engagement

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement. And this distinction leads to the second element of Type I behavior: Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something the matters.”(p.111)

“One source of frustration in the workplace is the frequent mismatch between what people must do and what people can do. When what they must do exceeds their capabilities, the result is anxiety. When what they must do falls short of their capabilities, the result is boredom.”(p.119)

“One key to mastery is what Florida State University psychology professor Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate practice” – a lifelong period of…effort to improve performance in a specific domain.” (p.159)


How can I teach my students to monitor and create their own periods of “flow”?

How can I “reset” my student’s preconceptions of “practice”?

How can we as educators use these ideas in our own classrooms to reform or infect education from the inside out?

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