Friday, January 20, 2012

A Pink Way of Thinking

Author Daniel Pink discusses the concept of motivation in his 2009 book titled, "Drive." In this text Pink attempts to debunk the popular belief that if-then rewards, (if I do what is asked of me then I will be rewarded) are effective motivators. In fact, he shows that if-then rewards actually decrease motivation and productivity over time. It's worth repeating, Pink's research shows that the concept of providing incentives and rewards for performance and production actually has the exact opposite effect it is intended to. Allow me to provide a few examples.

When they are young, children actually ask to perform tasks like running the vacuum, doing the dishes, washing the car, cutting the grass, etc. They actually want to do those things, and there are even toy vacuums, kitchens, lawn mowers, etc. designed to replicate those activities! However, as the children grow older, the performance of those tasks is often tied to conditional rewards, if-then rewards. Do any of these sound familiar, "if you do your chores, we'll pay you your allowance." "If you do your homework, we'll let you play with your friends." "If you do well on your report card, we'll allow you to play video games." The obvious connection is if you do this, then we'll reward you with that.

Now anybody who is a parent knows from experience that teens do not ask to vacuum, do the dishes, wash the car or cut the grass. In fact, those activities that were initially viewed as play become unattractive obligations as soon as the if-then rewards were attached to them.

Think for a moment about this lesson and how it applies to education today. Everyone - students, teachers, parents, administrators and politicians want to improve education. How are the decisions made at the local, state and national level impacting the outcome? Is providing if-then rewards to students, teachers, administrators, school districts and even entire states going to motivate those involved and increase productivity? Conversely, will it turn the educational process once filled with eager anticipation, excitement, the thrill of new discovery and the joy of learning into an obligation that actually decreases motivation and productivity?

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