This is only my second time seeing Dan Pink, and it is great to be here. I count Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, as being for me my single greatest inspiration to entirely rethink, about five years ago, how education must change with our changing times. To be sure, there have been many more books, articles, and school visits since then which have informed and refined my thinking, but I still vividly remember the day I sat down on a cabin porch near Lake Tahoe to read Pink one summer afternoon, and “waking up” to a new vision of education in what is still our new century.
Over the past week I have read Drive, and for those reading this off-site, I encourage you to view the TED video above which conveys these ideas usefully and succinctly. I am intending to publish here in the next few days a review of Drive.
Session begins with an introduction by Scott Griggs, who quotes Pat Bassett to make the point that he cannot think of any environment which provide all community members, from Head of School to Teacher to Student, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, than independent schools!
Pink opens with the “old” adage, “behind every successful man lies a very surprised mother-in-law.”
Dan tells us he has spent the last few years studying the science of human motivation– an endlessly, bottomlessly fascinating subject. (I am calling him Dan because I have on a few occasions corresponded with him; most of the following paragraph are quoting or paraphrasing Dan directly).
We have, as humans, drives, which motivate us– biological drives like hunger. And we are driven by a desire for rewards and money; if someone asks me to hold up a copy of Dan’s book, for 30 seconds, for $10, we will likely do it– as a woman does here. “We respond exquisitely to rewards and punishments. ”
But although these two motivations are powerful and compelling, they are NOT all it is to be human. We have other drives!
And this is an essential point for teachers, because we are not in our careers for biological compensation, or financial rewards.
It is wrong empirically, from a half century of hard science, to say that carrots and sticks, rewards and punishments, will produce better performance.
Research from Ariely et.al.: “As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, the bonuses helped to better performance. But when the task involved even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.”
By being asked to look at an enticing reward to stimulate us to do a task, it narrows our perspective to a focus upon the reward, not the tast, and hence, doesn’t work and actually diminishes effectiveness at that task. And what is crazy, sometimes the response is to enlarge the reward.
Human beings are pretty complex– we have many and multiple drives. And we are not easily manipulated: we are not just slightly enlightened horses— we are an altogether different species.
Management is just a technology, from the 1850s, and it is getting pretty outdated, like most technologies from the 1850s. It works for getting people to comply, but not much more.
The rule for high school students to be successful, in the old model: “Give the authority to the guy who wants to be shown authority, and get it in time, neatly.” “The ‘good’ kids comply and the ‘bad’ kids defy but no one engages;” is that school today?
First, the new rules require Autonomy!
An example is a company called Atlassian, in Australia, which provides employees FedEx Days— a day when employees can spend their time doing whatever they like, but then have to, the next day (overnight) deliver something new. At Zappos, the call center employees have one mandate, and one only: Solve the customers’ problems. That’s it. At Google, employees have 20% time, when they can do whatever they like, and gmail came out of it– in fact, one person at Google says that all the good ideas at Google come out of the 20% time.
Autonomy Ideas for Schools: FedEx days for Teachers. For the next 24 hours, we are going to come up with something NEW to do at school– a new class, a new system, a new process.
For Students: Students would go bonkers during a 20% day– and we in independent schools have the autonomy to do so. For 24 hours, do whatever you want (with some parameters): a new idea, a new offering for the school. Kids would really respond to this kind of autonomy!
Mastery: Humans are mastery seeking guided missiles. The levels of worker disengagement (in the workplace) are frightening. People are bored. But not in Open-Source– where the engagement is high. Linux, firefox– these are projects that are technically sophisticated creating valuable products for which people are unpaid! Because these endeavors provide a sense of mastery! “Enjoyment based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on a project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver.” Reference to “Why Hackers do what they do” by Lakhani, et. al
HBS researchers, published in HBR recently: “The Top Motivator at work, by far: Making Progress in One’s Work.” Not incentives, not rewards, not bonuses. Search for mastery and making progress is a great motivator.
How to do this for Teachers and Students: Performance Reviews: Nobody like performance reviews, neither giving nor receiving. DIY Performance Reviews– Do it yourself. Beginning of the month, beginning of the semester, set out your goals in writing (!), goals and objectives, and then you call yourself into the office– how am I faring? What do I need? What do I need in resources to do my job is better?
And if it is applies to teachers, why not for kids? Report cards are at the end of the line– but what about in the midst of the process? But grades ought to be a form of feedback to help you toward mastery. Can we encourage students to do this? Here is what I want to learn in Chemistry! Then self-assess regularly, and compare self-assessments with those of the teachers. Any great athlete, art, musician: they have ways to self-assess, to measure how they are doing.
(NB: Like many other ISAS schools, I am sure, at St. Gregory, particularly in our middle school, we are taking this advice very seriously. Students 2 or 3x annually “lead” teacher-parent conferences, and do by identifying, and reviewing progress upon, their SMART goals.)
Purpose! There is a sense that in the last ten years, things have gone off kilter, and it may be because we have lost a sense of purpose, we have lost a sense of doing things that serve a cause bigger than themselves. Pink: I think teachers are animated by purpose, more than in ANY other white collar profession in the US.
An idea for determining purpose, from Claire Booth Luce: A great man is a sentence. “The great President are not doing a lot of small things, they are doing one big thing. If you try to do too much, you don’t have a sentence, you have a muddled paragraph. What is your sentence?” To determine your purpose, you must determine your sentence!
And then the second sentence: At the end of the day, was I better today than yesterday? Some days the answer is No. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is no. But, it is rarely no two or three days in a row.
Dan offers a nice, sentimental, moving tribute to teachers to close.
About the talk: Dan is a great presenter; he is comfortable and confident on stage, with a clear purpose in what he wants to convey. He is funny and self-deprecating; his slides are illuminating and provide the powerful supportive evidence, but they are not, hardly ever, his talking points. I love his energy, his humor, his passion. It should be said too that Pink does a better job than most of offering specific, actionable suggestions to readers and listeners for what to DO to carry through and go forward with his ideas and insights. That is a theme and thread that is consistent with both A Whole New Mind and Drive.
And he did a good, but I can’t say great, job of trying to bring his message to this particular audience. Byt his I mean that he certainly did try to connect his ideas to the work we do in schools (and he was genuine in the lovely ways he flattered and praised us), but these connections were not rich, not deep, not highly applicable or highly thought through.
Dan Pink is a brilliant synthesizer and popularizer, and a very good presenter; I think the ideas of Drive are valuable and significan, powerfully, to the project of education.
But I don’t find the ideas of Drive quite as compellingly original as the experience I had in reading A Whole New Mind. That book borrowed too, particularly in its first section, from Friedman and others, but when he went into his Six Senses, I felt I was entering a bold new world. Here, as Pink himself repeatedly said, there is cognitive science going back fifty years to support these interpretations.
But if not entirely original, is his message significant? Yes. Do we need this message in and for our schools? Absolutely!