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Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

An interesting post over on Presentation Zen about Dan Pink's TED Talk on motivation, that Garr summarizes nicely:

We don't need sweeter carrots and sharper sticks, Dan says. We need a whole new approach, an approach that puts more stock in intrinsic motivation. Dan identifies three elements that comprise a new way of thinking about management:

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. . .


Some Links for the Day

I'm on my way out the door to do a 2.5 day social media training session for staff at Centers for Independent Living. My blogging has been so sporadic of late, though, I felt like I needed to do a post before I go. So some links that have been hanging out in my "blogthis" tag on Delicious:

  • Is 15 Minutes the New Hour of Corporate Training? --Personally I'm hoping that Clark Aldrich is wrong with this one. I'm starting to chafe a bit at the idea that everything needs to be crammed into information-packed bites that, frankly, give you no time for reflection or going deeper. Ironically, I read Clark's post the same day I read this one on Sandra Lee, the "anti Julia Child." I think we've started to think that all meals should take 15 minutes or less and be concocted of a few quick ingredients that have largely been made by someone else. I'm beginning to long for the days of Julia Child, when you actually took your time and made some things from scratch. The results are so much better.
  • The Recession-Proof Graduate--Charlie Hoen has some good advice for making yourself "recession-proof" (to the extent that's even possible). My daughter will graduate from NYU this year, so I've already sent this to her. Let's hope it doesn't take her a year to find a job though.
  • White Space in eLearning--Connie Malamed writes about putting more white space into elearning. I have to say that lately I've been wondering, though, how to create more "white space" in real life and wondering how these principles of pacing, quantity of information and design could apply. Also thinking about how most organizations aren't doing a lot to promote some white space at work.
  • Explosive Introspection--Continuing on a theme here, here's a post from Mark David Milliron on being more introspective that goes well with the notion of reflective practice. Lately I've had NO time for introspection, reflection or anything else other than work or collapse, so I'm longing for a little explosive introspection.

"Fill the Gap": A Flickr Learning Activity?

Through a really excellent article about how the Smithsonian is embracing social media, I ran across their "Fill the Gap" project, in which they used Flickr to engage the public in finding a piece of art from their collection to "fill the gap" to be left by a painting that will go into storage.

Fill the Gap

This also seems like a really fun learning and community-building strategy to me. In a factory, take a picture of machinery that's broken or that needs improvement and then post it on Flickr for comment and feedback. You could also use YouTube or Vimeo to upload a recorded process or activity to ask for the same thing--"what's wrong with this" or "what could we do differently?" A series of these would be fun, too, related to a similar theme sent out over the course of several days or weeks.

I like the visual aspect, the ability to engage the community and the various possibilities here.

How could you adapt this for a learning activity or project you're working on?