Talking motivation at 13,000 feet

I once read an article that hinted that airplane food is specifically designed to hit your taste buds perfectly  at high altitudes. Those little trays of unrecognizable “chicken”, the unfaltering green salad, the watered-down coffee/dirt dishwater hybrid, the tiny plastic tea set one balances precipitously on the undersized seat-mounted tray table: the entire food experience on a plane would, if presented during taxi, be grounds for prosecution at The Hague.

But roll that crap out once we hit our cruising altitude and the pilot has switched off the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign, and prepare for salivation on a level that would embarrass Pavlov’s Pomeranian.

My exact locationI bring this up because, as I write this, I’m about 9 hours in to my 4th annual long-haul, connecting Tokyo-Narita to the good ole USofA. And if experience has taught me anything, in about 30 minutes, the flight crew is going to roll out some altitude-enhanced mini-pizzas that will, undoubtedly, be the best food I’ve eaten in the last 8 months.

Here’s the thing: I can’t get myself to start visualizing the mouth-watering mélange of cheese, sauce, crust, and God-knows-how-many-preservatives. I can’t get myself hyped up about my upcoming snack because I can’t get over what just happened. I can’t get myself to shift my focus to my meal, because I’m stuck on the last thing I consumed: Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

I first stumbled upon Pink’s work during one of the few Twitter #edchats I’ve been participating in more as of late. There seems to be a couple of works that have made their way into the modern educational canon for teachers as of late—Robinson’s The Element, Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, Whitaker’s Shifting the Monkey—but Pink’s Drive stood out to me the most, especially in regards to the growing trend of employing 20% Time in schools. As I had recently decided to add 20% Time into my sophomore English class curriculum, I figured it would be wise to see what this guy had to say about it.

I’m not a particularly fast reader, especially with nonfiction—I truly enjoy deliberately combing through the pages, stopping every few to close my eyes and think “OK, so what are YOU going to do with this?”. Having said that, I probably just broke my personal “Fastest I’ve ever inhaled a book” record with this one, knocking it out in my few waking hours since I boarded my first flight in Taipei. Like Gladwell, Dubner, and Levitt, Pink does a heck of a job of taking economics, psychology, sociology, technology, education, and business, boiling them into a meaty stew of information, and then serving them with a filling side order of story-telling. (Ok, maybe I am subconsciously still thinking about food…)

The big concept of Drive is that our motivation has been found to be more sophisticated than simple biological desires (eg. food, warmth, shelter, sex) and reward/punishment (eg. I’ll get something good if I work hard, I’ll be punished if I don’t). Modern research is finding that successful motivation involve tapping into one’s intrinsic desires. This is an idea that specifically remember discussion in college education classes, and Pink makes it clear that scientists overwhelmingly “get” this idea. However, it seems like the business world (outside of a few companies, including Google, 3M, and Best Buy) has been slow to latch onto this concept. It feels, then, that Drive is really Daniel Pink prodding management to buy into intrinsic motivation.

However, there’s good stuff for all, especially for educators. Pink tackles the concept of “carrots and sticks” (reward/punishment), explaining why and how they don’t work. (He then, in a move that not-at-reneged himself, breaks into a sub-chapter about the situations where they do work… so long as one follows the rules.) He clearly and simply explains the characteristics of intrinsically and extrinsically motivated people (Types I and X, respectfully) in a way I wish my college professors would have . He boils true intrinsic motivation down to three elements—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and further separates each into sub-points with plenty of real life examples and connections. Best of all, Pink (who i can only assume spent some time as a teacher himself) spends the last third of his book re-explaining his previous points in a review session that leaves me prepared and ready for the final exam to apply these lessons to my own life.

I have a “bookshelf” on of “Books I wish that everyone would read, but I’m sure no one will“, and as soon as I gain internet access, I’ll be sure to put Drive onto the list. At only 169 pages (on my Nook, that is), for a not-so-fast reader like me to plow through it before I crossed the Pacific makes it a quick yet valuable read that I plan on going through again in a few months, after I see what 20% Time looks like in my own classroom.

Other fleeting thoughts:

  • If you read Outliers or Freakonomics, a couple of the references/stories will sound familiar. I, for one, don’t mind; I think it’s kind of cool to see a story in another place and to see what a different writer does with them.
  • I went into this thinking it was a book for teachers. In a word, “Meh.” In a sentence, “It’s not written for teachers, but I’m certain that any teacher hadn’t learned a lot of this stuff would benefit from reading it.”
  • Re: the 3 elements…
    • I’m very lucky to be in a job where I’m not only allowed to be autonomous—I’m expected to be, as are my colleagues.
    • As a Christian school, we believe that in addition to teaching “school stuff,” we have a much greater Purpose.
    • The 3rd leg, mastery, is the one that I feel like I’ve been devoted to approaching; however, our school is just in the beginning stages of establishing formalized professional development opportunities. Twitter has been da bomb for building self-directed PD, but I find that my colleagues don’t seem to want to take it seriously as an educational tool. We’ll see what happens.
  • Bonus—Great Quote #1: “People need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it). Companies that offer autonomy, sometimes in radical doses, are outperforming their competitors.” Hoo-Rah.
  • Bonus—Great Quote #2: “Mastery also abides by three peculiar rules. Mastery is a mindset: It requires the capacity to see your abilities not as finite, but as infinitely improvable. Mastery is a pain: It demands effort, grit, and deliberate practice. And mastery is an asymptote: It’s impossible to fully realize, which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.”
  • My pizza just got here:

Bonus: found a fantastic RSA video that sums up the book nicely, if you’re interested in Drive but you’re illiterate you don’t have time to read:

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