Daniel Pink is the author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. It’s a book aimed at the business community, though I know a lot of people in education have been reading it. My copy has been sitting on my nightstand for quite a while.

However, earlier today I saw that he had given a TED Talk “On The Surprising Science of Motivation.” (see The Best Teacher Resources For “TED Talks” to learn more about these events). It looked like an interesting title, so I checked it out, and was glad I did.

It’s eighteen minutes long, and I’d encourage you to look at it. He, again, is aiming his talk towards business, but it’s very applicable to schools.

He cites a lot of research debunking the effectiveness of extrinsic rewards on motivation. This isn’t news to the many of us whom have read Alfie Kohn’s excellent book Punished By Rewards. However, he seems to provide a slightly more nuanced critique.

Pink basically says (at least, this is my interpretation — please leave a comment if you think my summary is incorrect) that extrinsic rewards do work — for mechanical work that doesn’t require much higher-order thinking.  But he says research says that it will not work for anything that requires higher-order thinking skills and creativity.

This analysis mirrors my own experience in the classroom.  In Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”? I shared the challenges I faced last year in using extrinsic motivation to get students into a new pattern of behavior, and then moving them back toward intrinsic motivation. Using “points” was definitely effective in getting the class under control. They received them for being focused and doing their work.

However, I didn’t think students started doing their highest quality work until they were “weaned” off the point system and began to gain what Pink calls “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Pink says that those are the three essential elements in generating higher-order thinking skills.

I’d be interested in hearing comments after you watch the video.