Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review of Daniel Pink's Drive

Daniel Pink’s Drive is an intriguing book on motivation which attempts to dispel all the ideas that people have about what motivates them. The book begins by discussing motivation and how it has changed in the 21st century as a result of the huge influence of technology on the lives of the developed world. He then discusses how rewards can either increase, or more often, decrease motivation for people who are involved in various tasks. Drive then focuses on how people actually motivate themselves and it results in a very interesting look at how people strive to make their own path in the world. Ultimately it is this, and the desire to create new things which end up being the supreme motivators.

I was particularly struck by the Tom Sawyer experiment and how Pink attempts to explain how it fits into the idea of motivation. Ever since I was a child I have been interested in the event described in Twain’s famous novel. I even sometimes put it to the test as I was growing up, with differing results. Pink describes the event very well, but I think misses the most important factor in the whole “Sawyer Effect” (I’ll mention this a bit later). Pink says that rewards can “transform an interesting task into a drudge”, which got me thinking about what this says about rewards, and a rewards system for high school students. I don’t necessarily believe that this is true with students. I have given students similar assignments to complete, and without fail the assignments that have a larger weight on their final grade are always completed much better by most students. Anyone reading this will say that grades do motivate some students but that the assignments themselves should be designed in such a way so as to motivate students to want to achieve without the threat of a low grade should they not motivate themselves and do their best on the assignment. I fully agree with this but don’t always seem to be able to create assignments that motivate students and seem to fall back on the threat of assigning low grades for poorly completed assignments. I actually think that the Sawyer experiment is a classic example of peer pressure and has less to do with “human motivation”. I think that peer pressure is often the ultimate human motivator and I often clandestinely attempt to curry favor with the students I feel have the most influence on their peers. My thoughts are that if I am able to “win them over” that the rest of the class will fall in line. I am confident that the meek Becky Thatcher would not have been able to recruit anyone to paint the fence even if she had done it in exactly the same way as Tom did. She simply is not someone who had the influence on people like Tom did. This really gets me thinking about choosing groups for projects and assignments, and the motivating factor some students are for others in the class.

I was also very interested in how Pink very cleverly describes how incentivizing humans can often result in worse results than if you had offered nothing as a reward for the same task. Pink explains how paying someone a meaningful reward can result in motivation, but shockingly he says that “higher incentives lead to worse performance”. This again got me thinking about how this relates to the classroom and student grades. I remember during my time in high school working much harder for the teachers who were not keen to give out high grades. Students who are incentivized by teachers who give high grades learn that they are going to get a satisfactory grade for being mildly motivated, and as results often don’t work as hard for those “easy” teachers as they might for the teachers where they have to “earn” their grades. I was very interested in the experiment that Pink did that showed incentivized workers in India are actually destined to do tasks in more time than those that are not incentivized. Pink however did not take into account the threat of not being paid if the work was not done correctly.

Quotes: “We work to master the clarinet on week ends although we have little hope of making a dime (Motivation 2.0) or acquiring a mate (Motivation 1.0) from doing so. We play with puzzles even when we don’t get a few raisons or dollars for solving them”.

Question: How do we get students to take ownership of a task or project and go beyond expectations just because it makes them feel good?

Quote: “Lakhani and Wolf uncovered a range of motives, but they found that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on a project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver”.

Question: If choice for young people is often driven by enjoyment, how do I design projects to ensure that students enjoy them enough to want to be motivated throughout the project?

Quote: “If Britain decided to pay citizens to donate, that would actually reduce the country’s blood supply”.

Quote: “Children careen from one flow moment to another, animated by a sense of joy, equipped with a mindset of possibility, and working with the dedication of a West Point cadet”.

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