Daniel Pink on Motivation

Daniel Pink has a new book coming out soon, which he previews in the Ted Lecture shown above.

Maybe this is a bad time for me to bring up the fact that money may not be the biggest motivating factor in the world. At my own job we’ve all been told we’re getting pay cuts. That’s a pretty big morale buster. It makes you wonder how you can ask people to do anything that falls outside of the checklist of minimal requirements for the job. It certainly calls into question what kind of professional development and innovative programs are even possible in the current economic climate.

On the other hand, I tend to agree with Dan Pink. Innovations happen when people have an intrinsic drive to succeed, to solve problems, to contribute something to world around them apart from financial motivations. That kind of drive needs a certain amount of free rein in order to thrive.

Yet…I’m not sure everyone has inner motivation even if given the right conditions. Some people would really do nothing in an environment that allowed it. Others would do far more than expected.

But here’s the catch. Those doing more are going to overshoot the balance if they are given a chance to be creative and self-motivated on the job. They’re going to make up for the dead weight and more. This is where schools, businesses, and so forth make mistakes. They create rules to control the behavior of the least productive people, and in doing so, they stifle the enthusiasm for the job of the most productive people. In the end, everyone loses.

All that aside, the question of how you can ask people to show any sort of self-motivation when they are being given more work for less pay is a tough one. The only answer I know is that you can’t make new teacher training initiatives into extra work in this case. You have to make the teacher training part of your stress management program. You have to make it play. Somehow.

It also helps if, as Pink suggests, you give over a whole lot of choice and autonomy to the teachers being trained. But then, no one actually asked me.

The Importance of Play

I don’t have all (or most or many) of the answers, but I do recognize many of the problems, and I believe we find solutions by examining, discussing, and generally tackling problems head on. One of those problems frequently on my mind of late is teacher training for technology. I think probably more schools get it wrong than right, and as a result teachers often feel impossibly behind, impossibly underprepared, and impossibly under-confident.

This isn’t entirely a teacher problem. Largely, it’s an adult problem. Those of us who grew up in less tech saturated times just don’t have the innate confidence of the young in experimenting with new tech tools. Last night I let my 4-year-old nephew play with my iPhone. He played games, downloaded video, and experimented to find out if he could trick the phone by touching multiple places on the screen at once. He tried to get the adults around him to play as well, but they all said, “I don’t want to mess up the phone.” They trusted the 4-year-old to get it right more than they trusted themselves.

You, as a teacher, a parent, a person of adult years, aren’t going to do anything to a gadget, application, or process that can’t be fixed. You just don’t trust that intuitively the way a child does. You aren’t native to this digital world. But you do have to live in it. You do have to use the language and the tools of it to get by. And if you want to thrive in the digital world, you have to learn to play with technology in the same way a child does in order to understand it.

A comment left on my previous post mentioned play, and it reminded me that play is part of what’s missing in teacher training. We do anything but. We’re put under pressure. We put ourselves under more pressure through our own lack of confidence. We start to resent being asked to make so many changes, and we shut down for a time, putting us even further behind…a truly vicious cycle. Much of it does go back to the lack of playfulness in our introduction to technology. We’re told steps. 1, 2, 3, do this. Next. 1, 2, 3, do this.

We don’t take enough time to play around. We don’t take enough time (if any) to discuss lesson ideas, formulate best practices, or research pedagogical theories. Often we’re shown how something works by someone in IT coming at it from an IT perspective rather than from a fellow teacher coming at it from a classroom perspective. We’re told its functionality, and we may not have a clue what that really implies for us and our students. So we don’t follow through because nothing particularly inspired us about the functionality of the thing, and we’re busier than we can handle taking care of stuff we do understand.

But consider this video on “Fun Theory.”

People will do what’s good for them if it’s presented as the more entertaining path. Even students. Even teachers.

Instead of more training sessions with more 1, 2, 3 steps for technology, maybe what the teachers need are some play dates.