Thursday, January 7, 2010

'Carrots and Sticks are so Last Century' - Dan Pink

Dan Pink has written several best selling book on the future of work.His most latest book is Drive in which he Explores what motivates us to do our best work. Ideal remedial holiday reading for our limited Minister of Education and her tame lackeys who insist on waving big sticks at teachers to do as they're told. Pink would say, 'they are locked into the wrong century!'

As it turns out I ordered the book through Amazon and it arrived today but until I read it I will rely on an interview with Pink where he was asked to relate his ideas to education.

Pink's ideas reinforces my view that education, as it is currently structured, is past it 'use by date' being far too teacher dominated. Even the most liberal of our so called 'child centred ' primary schools spend inordinate time on the 'three Rs'. The reforms imposed on school the past decades have all but destroyed creative teaching and now teachers default mode has been influenced by standardized 'best practice' teaching. National Standard might well be the last straw causing teachers to say 'enuf is enuf'. I hold my breath. I worry that teachers have been habituated by all the pressure to be accountable , to measure and compare achievement, to narrow their curriculum and, in the process, are developing a bland McMac 'one size fit all' system unable to promote creative alternatives.

Pink explores what motivates us to do our best work and believes that the current carrot and stick approach will does more harm than good. The time has come, he says, 'To to tap into the deeply human need to direct our own lives to learn and create new things and to do better by ourselves and the world.... The 21stC requires us to upgrade autonomy, mastery and purpose'.

Pink book has a metaphor at the centre of it. It is the metaphor of the computer operating system. Pink says that businesses (and schools) and cultures have operating system too. Our first system ( Motivation 1) was built largely on our biological drive to satisfy our hunger and our survival. With the development of cooperative complex societies this basic system had to be modified (motivation 2) to restrain simply satisfying basic drives.

Motivation 2 was built around rewards and punishments -around 'carrots and sticks'. This was an ingenious system and Pink says it fueled the Industrial Revolution.

This system is now crashing because the kind of work asked of people today has changed - new dispositions are required to cope with greater complexity.

Motivation 3 is based on the drive to direct our own lives. The drive to get better at stuff that matters.The drive to connect ourselves to a cause larger than ourselves.

Running organisation using rewards and punishments is no longer enough and can actually do harm by distorting and narrowing activities - c.f National testing in schools.

Research, Pink says, shows that carrots and sticks work in a narrow band of circumstances and that if you want high performance on more creative tasks you have to have a different operating system built more on our internal drive to do interesting things and to do things that matters.

This bring us back to schools with their genesis in the industrial age -schools that by and large run on a 'carrot and stick mentality' (while trying to channel basic biological drives!).

'Schools', Pinks says, 'are still at 2.0 , they maybe haven't gotten all the updates'. He compares schools to some business that have experimented with flexible schedules giving people more autonomy.

Schools have been, and are still being, constantly reformed but all the talk seems to revolve around 'carrot and stick' motivation. Schools, Pink says' ought to know more about the differences between intrinsic motivation than almost anyone else.'

Students need to learn not for short term reward but that to do something worthwhile is the reward itself. All this performance pay talk for teachers is the wrong approach as is rewarding students or naming and shaming schools with standardized testing.

And Pink says extrinsic and intrinsic motivation cannot co-exist - the science , he says, that just isn't right.Kids who work for extrinsic rewards lose interest after gaining the reward - or get hooked on getting more rewards. This 'if you do this you will get this' has devastating effects on creativity.

Answering the question that if 'carrots and sticks' are removed from schools how would accounatbility be assured Pink believes that if people have autonomy they will use it well - it depends on the theory of human behaviour ( their operating system ) you believe in. People who believe in creativity and autonomy will actually do better work and actually want to be held accountable. It is all about creating the conditions of trust, respect and positive relationships.

Tell that to our current 'carrots and sticks' minister of education and far too many of our current managaement oriented principals.

Judging by standardized testing is a disaster waiting to happen Pink says. Teachers, he believes, need to be paid well and encouraged to focus on their jobs - most teachers he says 'just want to teach and do right by kids' but he does say principals need the power 'to get rid teachers who are duds'.

As for students who come from dire socio economic circumstances ( making up the so called 'achievement tail') where basic skills and the concept of being intrinsically motivated are often absent such students will need a bit of structure and some scaffolding to get there but unless such students achieve responsibility and autonomy they will still not be prepared for the world.

It is such ideas a true minister of education should be pursuing - ideas implicit in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum rather than the reactionary 'carrot and stick approach' of her 'do it or else' National Standards. Her operating system believes in surveillance, measuring by numbers, imposed targets, comparisons, rewards and punishments. She is blithely unaware of the importance of the internal world of students and the importance of respectful relationships for all involved.

Our minister's approach is insulting to creative teachers. She needs to create learning cultures that respect both teachers and their students.

We can't mindlessly put up with a failing and flawed system based on outdated motivational theories forever?
A system predicated on a desire and genuine success for all would involve a sweeping change in mindset for all involved so as to develop the individual gifts of all.

Teachers, it seems, are at a 'turning point' - will they have the confidence to fight for what is right and turn it into a 'tipping point'?

I wait to see.

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