Maybe it was the fact that the students at PineCrest Elementary
School were attending an assembly in which they were told nothing
but how wonderful they were.
Whatever it was, ever since I attended that Feb. 28 celebration I
have been telling people how cool it was to be around kid energy. I
was never that psyched after a Bremerton City Council meeting,
which is no knock on anyone there.
The PineCrest recognition story, detailing how the school goes
out of its way to recognize good behavior, is a story wholly about
motivation. Our Feb. 18 story on Central
Kitsap and North Kitsap schools considering a program that pays
students and teachers for better pass rates on AP tests is
Sunday’s story, the one about state Sen.
Nathan Schlicher, includes some discussion of motivation. He
referred to the book Drive by Daniel H.
Pink. In the book Pink says businesses have been going about
encouraging creativity all wrong.
I watched Pink’s TED Talk (TED stands for Technology,
Entertainment, Design) on motivation and then checked the book out
at the library. I was influenced enough by it that I made wholesale
changes in how I approach some of my side projects, and to some
degree the work at my day job. This blog post is Exhibit A.
The bottom line message is that in tasks with clear-cut
processes, where the “how-to” is clearly defined, money is an
effective motivator. Where the tasks requires problem solving or
creativity, it can hurt.
As an example of how our common perception of money = motivation
is wrong, Pink points to Microsoft Encarta vs. Wikipedia.
Sure, that ragtag band of volunteers might produce
something. But there was no way its product could compete with an
offering from a powerful profit-driven company. The incentives were
all wrong. Microsoft stood to gain from the success of its product;
everyone involved in the other project knew from the outset that
success would earn them nothing. Most important, Microsoft’s
writers, editors, and managers were paid. The other project’s
contributors were not. In fact, it probably cost them
money each time they performed free work instead of remunerative
labor. The question was such a no-brainer that our economist
wouldn’t even have considered putting it on an exam for her MBA
class. It was too easy.
But you know how things turned out.
Let’s consider another example. If I ask you to build a car and
I promise you your pay will be higher the faster you do it, money
will improve your performance. If I ask you to design a car, you
might come back to me with a design quicker if I don’t offer you
any money. Now, I don’t know anyone who creates cars for free, so
the object would be to make it so money is not the factor
driving performance. That could mean paying someone a salary and
saying, “Go create a car.”
Schlicher, who graduated from high school at age 14, said it was
his decision to skip grade levels each time the option was
available. He performed well because he had a level of autonomy in
the decision making and he was excited to learn what he was
learning. He never mentioned the possibility of reaching payday
sooner, though that certainly was one result. He sees that as the
model to follow in crafting legislation. He wants to set
parameters, but let those who deal with the issues daily create the
In the CK/NK Advanced Placement story Franklyn MacKenzie,
director of secondary teaching and learning in the CK district,
said he didn’t think students would be all that motivated by $100
six months down the road. Following Pink’s thesis, MacKenzie is
probably right. The extra money for the educators carries with it
an obligation/opportunity to be trained in better teaching, so it
isn’t exactly free money. Those teachers are actually working more
hours to get that extra money. National Math and Science Initiative
officials say the incentives they offer are creating higher pass
rates for AP students, and more AP students to begin with. Assuming
that is true, NMSI’s method for handing out money is either a
factor in the success or a nice side benefit.
At PineCrest, the reward is recognition. Pink refers to a study
in which researchers asked three groups of children if they wanted
to draw. To the first group they promised a blue ribbon if they did
it. To the second they didn’t say anything about a reward, but gave
one after time was up. To the third group they didn’t promise or
give any award. Two weeks later they gave all the same kids the
opportunity to draw, without mentioning awards to any of them.
There was no difference in behavior between the second and third
group, but the first group drew with much less enthusiasm and spent
much less time drawing than the other groups.
At PineCrest there is no “if-then” promise associated with good
behavior. I’m sure the students have figured out by now that they
might get a certificate or a Panther Paw for doing good deeds, but
there is no guarantee. And if there isn’t an award, the only reward
is the act itself. And we all want our kids to believe that doing
good is its own reward.
Enjoy the 20-minute TED talk by Daniel H. Pink.
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