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A book that I have had on my reading list for a long time and just recently got around to reading is Drive by Daniel Pink. I have heard a ton of good things about this book and was not disappointed after reading it myself. Drive provides a fascinating look at what current research reveals about what truly motivates individuals in the 21st Century. Without spoiling the book for those of you who have not yet read it, the book dispels the myth that people are primarily motivated by "carrot and stick" external rewards such as money. Rather, contemporary research has revealed that people are most effectively motivated intrinsically by providing these three essential elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose (Pink, 2009).
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the use of external rewards to motivate individuals to better performance is surprisingly ineffective, especially when it comes to non-routine tasks that involve creativity. Not only do external rewards fail to boost performance, they can actually diminish it. Although the book primarily focuses on the implication this research has on business, the principles discussed are applicable to just about anyone serving in some form of leadership capacity including parents (Pink, 2009).
Taking a moment to ponder this, it is amazing how often external rewards are still utilized in an attempt to motivate individuals to better performance. This is especially true in my field of education and coaching. External rewards and punishments have been a mainstay in the American education system for years despite their apparent lack of effectiveness. If we are being truly honest, our education system overall has done a poor job of providing opportunities for autonomy, mastery and purpose in our classrooms. I cannot help but wonder what our schools would look like if we intentionally focused on these three areas with all students.
If you are a teacher administrator, coach or parent, I encourage you to carefully consider whether external rewards and punishments are the focus of your motivation strategies with the individuals under your leadership. If so, is this approach really maximizing their abilities and potential? Would those same individuals be better motivated to perform their best if you focused on providing opportunities for autonomy, mastery and purpose?
Based on years of practical experience reinforced by the evidence presented in Drive, I firmly believe that an approach which focuses on building intrinsic motivation is the right one. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I highly recommend reading Drive for yourself. It is an interesting read and a book that will help you make informed decisions on how to best motivate the people who look to you for leadership.
Please feel free to share any comments or ideas you have on motivational best practices.
Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.