Monday, February 20, 2012

Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

Summary of the Drive’s main ideas
In his most recent book, Drive, Daniel Pink asserts that there is a fundamental disconnect between what science knows about motivation and the carrot-and-stick approach that businesses, governments and non-profits utilize to motivate their employees.  He argues that instead of the extrinsic rewards that managers have used to incentivize efficiency and effectiveness among workers in jobs comprised of predominantly algorithmic tasks, today organizations whose workers do mostly heuristic work would do well to give their workers opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and purpose, the constitutive elements of intrinsic motivation.  

3 Quotes that struck me and my responses to them

“Salary, contract payments, some benefits, a few perks are what I call “baseline rewards.” If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance… The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.” (33)  I was struck by this idea because it provides a nuanced view of how organizations should compensate their employees.  He is saying fair pay is a necessary, not sufficient, condition for motivating people in jobs that entail heuristic work.  Pay should be high enough to take the conversation of money off the table.  
This also strikes me because it flies in the face of the calls by many in the education reform community for pay-for-performance compensation schemes in teaching.  However, if we tie pay to performance on narrow indicators of student achievement, such as high stakes tests, teachers will be forced to narrow their focus to teaching to that test.  If the goal of education were to produce outstanding test-takers and millions of students who are excellent at algorithmic tasks, this might be an effective pathway toward achieving that goal.  But since the goals of American education seem to be to produce articulate scholars who can succeed in college and beyond, active citizens who are prepared to participate in a democracy, and innovative thinkers who can step into high-skill jobs that involve predominantly heuristic tasks that the 21-century economy demands, performance pay and teaching to the test seem antithetical to our goals.  Let me start by saying that I believe people who advocate performance pay believe that it will close the achievement gap and reward teachers for results.  As Jay-Z said in his song “American Gangster,” “Ain't nothin’ wrong with the aim, just gotta change the target.”  We can close both our nation’s achievement gap as well as the global achievement gap, but it’s not going to come from reform efforts that try to incentivize teachers to do a better job by paying those who achieve high test scores with more money.  That exactly how to turn teaching into clerical work, not inspiring innovation.  
“Perhaps management isn’t responding to our supposedly natural state of passive inertia. Perhaps management is one of the forces that switching our default setting and producing that state.” (87)  This quote struck me because it flips our traditional assumptions about human nature as tabula rasa, a blank slate, that needs to be managed and directed.  Pink flips this idea to assert that our state of nature is to be actively engaged and curious, a behavior we see from babies and children until they have it managed out of them (most often in the early school years).  That is to say, management produces passive inertia or docile bodies (to borrow a phrase from Foucault) that then necessitates managers to direct them.  Management is not only an effect of passive inertia but also its cause.  This has powerful implications for work with adults and students in schools.  It’s the difference between telling your students your classroom rules on the first day and co-constructing norms with them and collaboratively problem-solving as issues arise.  With adults its the difference between a director walking into your classroom and telling you what to do and having your director observe your teaching and engage in a collegial coaching conversation where you identify what went well and areas for growth.
“The single greatest motivator is “making progress in one’s work.” The days that people make progress are the days they feel most motivated and engaged. By creating conditions for people to make progress, shining a light on that progress, recognizing and celebrating progress, organizations can help their own cause and enrich people’s lives.” (127–128) This quote struck me because it is demonstrably true and evident in the work we do at HTMCV.  At our school making progress in my work is what keeps me going.  The conditions that enable us to make progress include our meetings before school and on PD days when we tune projects and look at student work, visit each other’s classrooms and just feel comfortable sharing our work with colleagues.  With students, we build collaborative and supportive classroom culture and create opportunities for them to learn the collaborative skills they need to be successful with projects, as well as building in time for reflection on what works and what doesn’t in our daily work.  In our staff meeting we begin with recognitions that frequently recognize the progress we have made as individuals and as a staff.  With students recognizing progress comes out frequently, especially during SLCs and POLs.  And of course exhibitions are the pinnacle of celebrating progress as a school, a class and as individuals.  

2 Questions
1. What project management structures and techniques have you used to enable students to have maximal autonomy over their task, their time, their technique and their team?

2. Under what conditions or in which circumstances would you support the use of “if-then” rewards in the classroom or school?

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