(by Daniel Pink)


Pink sets out to demolish long-held beliefs such as that people are only motivated by extrinsic factors and he does so with gusto. While primarily focusing on the business world, most of the things he says apply directly to education as well.

Pink starts by making a useful distinction between ‘algorithmic’ and ‘heuristic’ tasks (p. 29). The former are ones which you perform by following a series of pre-determined steps, while the latter require a more creative approach. Crucially, the latter are far more motivating!  In our field this would translate into a distinction between, say, the standard transformation exercise and an activity like improvising and recording a monologue. The big Q for us is: what is the ratio between these two types of activities in our classroom?

Later on, Pink draws on Csikszentmihalyi’s insights on ‘Flow’ (p. 115). Csikszentmihalyi’s research showed that most tasks where people achieved ‘Flow’ shared three key elements: a) there were clear goals,  b) there was immediate feedback and  c) the task difficulty level was perfectly pitched – slightly higher than the performer’s current level. The implications for task design here are obvious…

In discussing ‘extrinsic’ vs ‘intrinsic’ motivation, Pink points out that there is often a trade-off; extrinsic factors may work best in the short-term, but in the long run intrinsic motivation is always the winner! (p. 79) Back to ELT, exam classes illustrate this perfectly: granted, both parents and students often clamour for more exam-oriented material as there is always a test round the corner, but in the long run this is disastrous (I have yet to meet students who do CPE tests for fun after getting their certificate…)

Motivation leads to ‘autonomy’ and this is where things get really exciting! On p. 86 we are introduced to the concept of ROWE (‘Results-Only Work Environment’). The idea is simple: your employer does not care how or when you do something, so long as you deliver the goods! Now imagine ROSE instead! Imagine a school where classes are not compulsory, where students are more autonomous and they have to actually generate something as evidence of learning (rather than sit endless tests). This is not a dream; the IB model has taken many steps in that direction…

Then on p. 93 we go one step further still! Atlasian is a software company where once a week employess can do anything they want!! At the end of the day, employees just show what they have come up with. Now, can you imagine a school where once a week you can work on any project you want? Imagine being paid to design your favourite activities, to incorporate novel IT-based task in the syllabus or prepare worksheets for ‘Comedy for ELT’ sketches? Sheer bliss! 🙂