Education and Health Care Part 1:
Comparing Apples and Oranges
An Example of Apples and Oranges
Education and Health Care as BusinessesBoth Education and Health Care are very large businesses. They both have a large number of employees and a very large number of customers. For simplicity in this newsletter, we will label these customers as students (in our Education system) and patients (in our Health Care system).
A Recent Book by Daniel Pink
The 2009 book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink is a business and economics book. It focuses mainly on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation within the field of business. Since both Education and Health Care can be thought of as businesses, it could well be that research on motivating employees is quite relevant to these two disciplines.
Daniel Pink’s book summarizes 40 years of research on how to motivate business employees. There is strong evidence that the traditional extrinsic motivation we call carrot and stick (if-then rewards and punishments) works well in motivating algorithmic, repetitious, boring job situations. The carrot and stick approach to maintaining and enhancing the performance of workers is successful in many different Industrial Age jobs.
To a large extent however, such an extrinsic approach to motivation does not work well in motivating heuristic problem solving and higher-order thinking activities that are key to Information Age (Digital Age) productivity. Indeed, it often leads to decreased performance in these areas.
Let’s use your authors as an example. Both Bob and Dave are retired professors. During our careers we received reasonably decent rates of pay, we had reasonably decent work conditions, we were treated reasonably fairly, and so on.
In addition, our jobs provided us with a great deal of time to do tasks of our own choosing. This autonomy and encouragement of creative productivity (not the carrot and stick of possible tenure, promotion, and pay increases) drove our careers. We were intrinsically motivated.
Humans have innate curiosity, ability to learn, and ability to be creative problem solvers. Daniel Pink tells us how these innate drives and intrinsic motivation can be supported by employers to increase productivity in work situations requiring higher-order thinking and creative problem solving.
Pink’s book contains many examples applicable both to business employees and volunteers. His examples explain why Bob and Dave produce this free newsletter. They explain the motivation of volunteers have created the Wikipedia, the Linux operating system, and the Firefox browser. Pink gives examples of a number of for-profit companies who allow certain categories of their employees to spend time on projects of their own choosing. For example, Google lets its software engineers spend a day a week on whatever they want to work on. Google and a number of other companies have enjoyed increased rates of creativity and development of potential new products through this approach.
Pink provides examples of maintenance and cleaning employees in hospitals being given encouragement to converse with patients. In many cases, this brings increased intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction to the employees that leads them to doing their overall jobs better, and it has a side benefit of bringing joy to patients they converse with.
How does this intrinsic motivation idea work in K-12 education? Here, there is a strong top-down carrot and stick approach to have teachers teach to the test so that students will score well on state and national assessments. Teachers, principals, and entire school systems are threatened by potential punishments if test scores don’t meet prescribed standards and/or yearly rates of improvement. The arguments presented in Pink’s book suggest that this approach will eventually fail in its efforts to improve the quality of education that students receive. Tony Wagner’s 2008 book discussed in the previous issue of this newsletter provides many examples of how the testing system is decreasing the quality of our educational system.
Pink’s writing and the work of many researchers provide an approach to analyzing the possible effect of using intrinsic motivation to increase worker productivity in activities requiring higher-order thinking and creative problem solving. He notes that this is not an exact science, and that sometimes a careful balance between use of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation approaches will be more successful than either alone.
Subsequent IAE Newsletters will explore more ideas that come from apples and oranges types of thinking.
Pink, Daniel H. (December 2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. USA: Riverhead Books (Penguin Group). See a 19 minute TED Video talk by Pink at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y.
Prabhu, Maya T. (7/12/2010). Student programmers solve real-world challenges. eSchool News. Retrieved 7/12/2010 from http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/07/12/student-programmers-solve-real-world-challenges/.
Wagner, Tony (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need—and what we can do about it. NY: Basic Books.
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