Posted by: bwoof | September 8, 2009

Daniel Pink and motivation

Some time ago I read Daniel Pink’s ideas somewhere (reference is now lost to me) and he claimed that there are three things that one can do to prevent job loss. They are, and I paraphrase from memory:

  1. Do something that can’t be done faster or better than a computer
  2. Do something that can’t be outsourced to India or China
  3. Do something that contributes brings value to human existence

At the time I thought his list made a lot of sense, and now I believe it even more. So today when I watched a recent Pink lecture on TED I was already primed to pay attention and listen up.

Pink claims that we try to motivate people all the wrong way. He says that the research (you’ll have to check out the lecture to learn more about the exact data) indicates that motivating people with punishment or even rewards actually has the net effect of reducing achievement.

So, if what he says is true, how does that affect education? What assessment practices are helpful? If any! How does that apply to me as a VP? What, then does motivate people to learn? To achieve?

A student gave me a hint today when I enquired why he’s been so unsuccessful after three years of high school. With his permission I relate his take on motivation:

“Kids are like birds learning to fly…when they’re in the nest they lack responsibility. They just sit there. They should be able to fly but they can’t. Due to my lack of responsibility I can’t fly. I want to be normal…to have a family, a job, a car, to go places. You are kicking me out of the nest.”

I truly hope that this fledgling will find his flight feathers. He knows and I know that there’s no big stick or enticing carrot that could have cajoled him into learning prior to this time in his life. We tried! Trust me, we tried!

But today he has somehow found internal motivation and we educators just had to wait it out and gently keep pushing him to the nest edge. Not too soon, but far too late by some people’s standards. I will reserve my judgement on that and have it in my calendar to check up on this student one month from today. He knows my iPhone will buzz…he saw me make the entry.

Grateful for:

  • the chance to dispense hope to a few kids who have, so far, experienced academic misery
  • a new microphone in the auditorium
  • L’Abri

Curious about:

  • Colin’s optics unit on the iPhone
  • iPhone and how to connect it to First Class
  • autism and how best to serve students


  1. you are so cool mom. i bet you almost hugged that kid when he made that bird analogy huh?! i can just picture your excitement….
    man oh man we sure miss you out here. i love you so much and i am excited to read your plog each day.

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