The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (2009), although not new anymore, was a book I enjoyed reading through over the past few days, with the lens of continuing to develop strong and positive school learning communities.

I found that Pink’s thinking supports the notion of creating organic learning communities that do not rely on purely top down strategies (carrots and sticks he calls them).  This aligns very well with my own perspective (and doctoral work) around learning communities in schools that have learning at the center of every decision-making activity (Mitchell & Sackney, 2009).

Some interesting ideas Pink writes about are:

  • Humans have a strong drive for intrinsic motivation and there is evidence to back up this assertion (Harlow & Deci).
  • There is research to support the notion that extrinsic motivation (carrots and sticks) have the propensity to “crush creativity, crowd out good behaviour, and extinguish intrinsic motivation” (p. 220).  This does not mean that there is not a place for extrinsic motivation, especially if the task is more rule-bound in nature.
  • Extrinsic motivation can furthermore encourage unethical behaviour, create addictions (or more entitled behaviors) and foster short term thinking.
  • The three elements necessary for tapping into people’s intrinsic motivation are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.  It is important to note that within autonomy it is assumed that there are specific goals to reach and furthermore, that autonomy does not necessarily mean “independence”. 
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