Dan Pink is one of the most fascinating thinkers in our era, and I have been a huge fan since his book, A Whole New Mind, which has influenced me enormously.  Now, this video from TED is 18 minutes long,  but it is really worth it: it speaks compellingly to the question of how to motivate people, workers or students, to tackle and solve complicated, 21st century type of problems.

Pink explains that rewards systems (contingencies, carrots and sticks, extrinsic motivators) do, they do, still work for simple tasks, for if-then thinking problems.  But they do not for more challenging tasks.   For challenges that require creativity or innovation, problems which require thinking out of the box, rewards and other extrinsic motivators not only don’t help, they harm.  At St. Gregory we will spend some time in the coming months being serious in looking at motivation, and using Tony Wagner’s important discussion of motivation as our guide. But, now, we will also use this video.

Pink cites a Federal Reserve bank study: “as long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.  But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance. ”

Sadly, this video only briefly introduces Pink’s explanation of what DOES work for motivating 21st century tasks, but it will be more fully articulated in his forthcoming Drive, for which I am very eager.

But here is his preview: what works is  “Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose:”  these are the holy trinity of motivating people to solve 21st century, complex problems.   Pink only discusses autonomy in the video, and he explains that autonomy is about freeing people from tightly directed tasks, and instead holding employees (and students) responsible only for results.   Give them a challenge, let them go, hold them tightly accountable.   He cites in support of this Google, which famously allows employees to spend 20% of their time working on whatever they like; 50% of Google’s new products each year result from this 20% “free time.”  He also cites companies which adopt ROWE corporate polices: Results only work environment– where there are no work schedules, no required tasks– only results.   The data, Pink reports, are astounding in the evidence for the enhanced productivity ROWE creates.

I know I am boasting, but Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose feels very resonant with my own writing on this blog: that schools best modeling effective and excellent 21st learning feature emphases on Purpose, Problems, Process (akin to Mastery), Professionalism (akin to Autonomy), and Product (akin to Results).   I will write more, at length, on the parallels of my “5 Ps” and Pink’s Drive when his book is published.