Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pink's Drive and Motivation

Thanks to a bit of extra free time over spring break, I finally had some time to read Daniel Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, since I've been lately thinking about the sometimes tenuous relationship that faculty have with professional development (PD.  The first half of the book focuses on the problems of motivation mainly from the perspective of the the business world, but it has clear applications to other fields, especially teaching (Pink offers suggestions for parents and educators later in the book).  The book is fantastic, and Pink is able to articulate much of what most people know from intuition but don't put to practice.  I'll briefly underscore only a few of Pink's points that I found salient to me:

Pink argues compellingly that now is the time for "motivation 3.0", which is based on intrinsic nature in humans "to learn, to create, and to better the world" (225), to supplant reward vs. punishment-based motivation 2.0.  His arguments are all based on scientific studies, which he cites fully in his rather convincing attempt to prove that motivation 3.0 is a real phenomenon that the world just hasn't yet adjusted to.

Pink criticizes the "carrot and stick" model for motivating people to complete tasks in that it simply doesn't work.  While it may have some positive effect for more "algorithmic" tasks, it does nothing for "heuristic" work that requires creative and independent thought (27ff.).  Unfortunately, much of what we do in education is driven by algorithm (e.g. excessive lecturing, needless homework, standardized testing, etc.).

To break from this model, Pink underscores the role that autonomy plays in creating the intrinsic motivation that drives people both to be productive in a given task and to feel fulfilled in their work (83ff.).  He then offers several examples of the "results-only work environment" (ROWE), in which companies have given employees "FedEx" Days (e.g. Atlassian; cf. p. 91) and "20% time" (e.g. Google; cf. p. 94) to use for whatever creative projects they wish to work on, and the results have spoken volumes.

Ch. 6 discusses purpose and the "most underused word in the modern workplace: Why" (137).  I wholeheartedly agree that we don't often enough discuss the "whys" of what we do.  Failing to do so, I fear, can prevent the formation of a strong community, when the goals of a given project aren't immediately clear to those asked to support it.

While considering these ideas, I've been trying to think of ways to implement more 3.0 strategies in education.  My focus right now isn't in the classroom, however, but with faculty ourselves, given that it's very difficult for me to believe we can continue to be strong teachers if we're not doing regular PD.  We're too often busied with administrative tasks (albeit many of which are self-imposed) that we don't have a chance to explore, create, and stay "fresh".  Consequently, even potentially exciting PD work can seem like drudgery for some, rather than creating a sense of "flow" (a somewhat opaque "Zen" concept discussed on pp. 114ff.).

Based on these points, I've listed some ideas I've been churning:
  • I'm interested in giving a "flow test" (153-4) or doing an "autonomy audit" (166-7) for both faculty and students.  I will be heading the Student Workload Committee at our school next year and will certainly incorporate some of these ideas.
  • I'm thinking about ways to give faculty a periodic "FedEx" day to use as they please.  How would this look?  Is it even practical?  It's important, to my mind, to give faculty as much autonomy and freedom as we would like to give to our students.
  • How could faculty then use "FedEx" days inside the classroom while simultaneously supporting their curriculum?  Cf. Mike Jackson's blog post on his own thoughts for giving students more autonomy.
  • How can we restructure our current "team" models to give faculty more autonomy in what they do in their classes?
  • Finally, we need to have more "why" conversations to foster community. They need to happen frequently and in small groups, where people can ask questions and feel open in voicing their opinions, even if dissenting.  The lack of teacher collaboration is well known (cf. this article from the Atlantic) and needs to be addressed.
I have more questions than answers right now, but I'm also optimistic that we have the opportunity on the horizon to do some interesting things.  I'd love to hear other reactions from those who have read Drive.  Alternatively, I welcome suggestions for other books.  Find me at @mosspike on Twitter to start a conversation.