Tag Archives: Motivation

What makes us move

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 another.

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 detailed solutions.

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.