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January 31, 2010

Caught Stealing? (Goals, Motivation, and Joy)

by Chris Lindholm

". . . business school professors suggest they (goals) should
come with their own warning label: Goals may cause systematic problems for
organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking,
decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation. Use care when
applying goals in your organization." (Pink, 2009)

you ever been
just about to do
something helpful on your own only to have someone ask you to do precisely the
thing you were about to do?  Kinda takes
the joy out of it, doesn’t it? I have actually, on occasion, refused to
continue the thing I was about to. For a long time I thought this was due to my
pride—and, ultimately, it probably is—but now I attribute it to ownership. When
I decided to perform the act I owned the action. When someone subsequently
asked me to do the same thing I no longer owned the action, but was merely the
vehicle of their ownership. I felt as if they had stolen ownership from me.
Worse than that, they had stolen my joy. Another way people can lose their joy,
or their creativity, is not due to theft, but via contract.

to Daniel Pink’s 2009 book,
people are less creative, less productive when they do something for an agreed
upon extrinsic reward than they are when they would do the same act for its own
reward. Consider this example from
of a study in Gothenburg, Sweden, in which 153 women expressed interest in coming
in to give blood. Researchers utilized this group to conduct a study and
divided the women into three groups. Group One was told their participation was
voluntary. Each member of Group Two was told they’d get paid 50 Swedish kronor
(about $7). And Group Three would also receive a 50-kronor payment each with
the immediate option to donate the amount to a children’s cancer charity. When
the opportunity came to follow through on their expressed interest the results
of the three groups may surprise you. Fifty-two percent of those who were
promised nothing (Group One) decided to donate blood. For Group Two, one might
expect the number to increase because the researchers had sweetened the pot.
However, only 30% of the women in this group decided to give blood. Group Three
responded much as the first group did; their participation was 53% (Pink, 2009).
So why did those who stood to receive no monetary reward respond in much higher
percentages than Group Two? Pink would argue that the original desire to give
blood was based in altruism; one might have any number of personal reasons for
wanting to give blood. However, once money became part of the equation, their
focus changed from intrinsic rewards to an extrinsic monetary reward. I would simply
say they sold their joy. In either case, studies show that those who complete a
task for an extrinsic reward may have short term success, but long term
complacency, whereas those who complete tasks for intrinsic reasons experience long
term fulfillment in that endeavor.

So let’s
take this out of book-speak and frame it in questions that have relevance to us
as educators. Do parents take the joy out of on-going learning when they offer
their kids $5 for every A? Do educators steal the joy of our students’ learning
when we use extrinsic rewards (grades, tokens, detentions, etc) to get them to
do their work? (And why do we call it work?) Do we, as teachers, turn in our
best work (there’s that word again) when asked to present professional goals at
the request of administration? What kind of intrinsic awards can we as
professional educators devise to take our students from short term success to
long term, on-going accomplishments? What can we do on our own to grow professionally
so that administration does not feel compelled to compel us to turn in a
professional goals sheet?

short, how do we keep the joy in learning for all involved and still educate
the kids? And, more personally, as teachers, do we steal the joy from our
students or encourage it?


Pink, D.H. (2009). Drive. Riverhead Books, New York, NY.




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