An interesting post over on Presentation Zen about Dan Pink's TED Talk on motivation, that Garr summarizes nicely:
Autonomy: The urge to direct our own lives.
Mastery: The desire to get better at something that matters.
Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
Traditional ideas about management are great, Dan says, "if you want compliance; but for engagement, self-direction works best."
In his talk, (which you should really watch), Dan discusses how science has demonstrated that rewards "narrow focus and restrict possibilities." As a result, when there's a defined task with a clear set of rules to follow, rewards can be a great way to get desired behaviors. But BECAUSE rewards tend to narrow our focus and restrict possibilities, in those cases where we need to "think outside the box," rewards are actually a terrible strategy to use.
Rewards actually impede our problem-solving ability because they cause us to restrict our consideration of other ideas and to focus on only one or two ways to solve the problem. As one of the studies Dan references discovered, "once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, (my emphasis) a larger reward led to poorer performance."
In a nutshell, rewards work for tasks where you don't have to think. As soon as you have to engage in any kind of thinking, rewards STOP WORKING.
This is something I've felt intuitively, but the science is really compelling. And the notion opens up a lot of questions for me.
- If knowledge workers are, in fact, the new blue collar workers, then maybe the carrot/stick thing is where we should be headed. But is that really what we need to do to rebuild our economy? For Americans (and that's the perspective from which I write), encouraging compliance and rule-following is actually the WRONG way for us to go about gaining any kind of economic growth. People who follow rules are fine when you're trying to maintain something, but to go beyond maintenance, you need people who will ask questions and break the rules. Dan expresses concern that in rebuilding from the rubble of our economic disaster, we are doing so based on old beliefs about what works. I definitely share these concerns.
- In the learning biz, we seem to spend a lot of time focusing on refining our carrots (HR seems to take care of the sticks.) So we think endlessly about how we can tweak our learning to make it more interesting. Can I add a game here or an activity there? Maybe some animation or a video would be a good idea.
There's no doubt that there's a need to make learning interesting. But do we end up getting lost in the weeds, worrying so much about whether or not we have the right game in place we lose sight of the fact that the learning doesn't really engage people on any of the Dan Pink's three dimensions of autonomy, mastery and purpose? Do we need to focus on something else?
- As an instructional designer and facilitator, I find that I tend work on the kind of learning that is more likely to connect to these three dimensions--I have NO interest in doing compliance training and avoid it at all costs. I also subconsciously design training so that it emphasizes these factors. I wonder if I need to be more explicit, though, in teasing out each of these three aspects, asking myself some different design questions? And if so, what should those questions be?
- What other implications for learning are there in these three dimensions? For example, are there ways to tap into these even when we're designing more rule-bound compliance-focused kinds of training?
Dan has a new book coming out in December called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us that explores these ideas in more detail. You can bet I'll be pre-ordering. I think there's a lot to consider here. . .