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Book Review: Drive

Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Riverhead Books, New York, 2009) should be required reading for everyone engaged in rethinking teaching compensation structures. I am in the process of writing a series of papers about teacher compensation (stay tuned!) and not being an expert on motivation and incentives, I thought I needed to do a little background reading, as bonuses and merit pay are a contentious part of the compensation conversation.

In Drive, Pink argues that our old business operating system, which is built around extrinsic motivators, needs to be upgraded. The “carrot and the stick” motivators worked fine for routine tasks, “if you do this you will get this,” the bulk of work in the 20th century. However, this motivation technique does not work for 21st century tasks. He cogently argues that for tasks which require creative thinking not only does the carrot and the stick not work, but it is also counterproductive—it narrows our vision to the specific, articulated task, crushes our creativity and at times can encourage bad behavior.

Pink suggests an approach to motivation based on intrinsic motivators—“(1) autonomy—the desire to direct our lives, (2) mastery—the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters, and (3) purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

He specifically addresses the national conversation around teacher compensation, and argues that extrinsic motivators—tying teacher salaries specifically to test scores—will not get the result we seek. He believes that the base pay of teachers should be raised in order to attract and retain talented teachers. One of his guiding principles around using compensation as a motivator is to “pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.” “Enough” defined as a living wage. Then “teachers could focus on the work that they love.”

At the moment teacher salary structures are grounded in motivators (experience and education credit) that research tells us do not support student achievement. After reading Drive, I wondered if we were going from the “frying pan into the fire”—from one structure not grounded in research to another structure not grounded in research. In a profession that places such a high value on research and evaluation, it is puzzling that we would not take into consideration what appears to be pretty well accepted research on motivation.

Drive is an easy and quick read. It falls into the Malcolm Gladwell-like style of books. Uncovering what we intuitively know and putting the information in a framework we can apply to our life. Pink also includes a Toolkit at the end of the book which helps with this application. I am eager to see if his “Four Tips for Getting (and Staying) Motivated to Exercise” work!

ERS Summer Book Club

Past Reviews

Upcoming Posts

  • Math Curse, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
  • Mark Tucker Report

Reader Recommendations

  • Stretching the School Dollar, Rick Hess
  • The Strategic School, Karen Hawley Miles

Have your own summer reading recommendation? Send it to community@erstrategies.org

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