Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"I'm Just Not Coin-Operated, Bob"

This summer, we're reading Tony Wagner's Creating Innovators, which is, of course, full of ideas we agree with. One of them is the notion that people get more satisfaction out of doing things when they're internally motivated to do so.

Wagner claims that the Millennials, as they're called, are actually motivated in different ways than those from previous generations, and he quotes Bob Compton, his collaborator on the videos for Creating Innovators, on this topic. Here is Compton, who is a high-tech venture capitalist and graduate of Harvard Business School, on working with today's twentysomethings:

Managing and motivating this cohort of young employees is almost overwhelmingly frustrating. All of the tools and techniques I learned at Harvard Business School, and all of my training and experience since, are ineffective at best. What's worse, traditional motivators -- stock options, commissions, bonus payments -- are often counterproductive with this generation. They take offense at being managed. As one of my young employees remarked when I offered stock and bonus payments as incentive for accelerating product development, "I'm just not coin-operated, Bob." Not "coin-operated"? Well, how are you "operated"? It is still baffling to me (page 19-20).

If this is true of twentysomethings, then we need to consider that traditional notions of grading in school are insufficient ways to motivate students. Grades are, after all, the carrot often dangled in front of students.

So how can we shift education so that it provides intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation for kids to succeed? Another point Wagner makes in his book is instructive here. He quotes Keith Miller, who works at 3M Corporation as manager of environmental initiatives and sustainability [RS Health and Environment is a fan of that position!]: 

Younger employees at the company want to have meaning in what they are doing. . . . It's a huge challenge for my generation. I came up through 3M when you had to put in your time before you got the good projects. You had to prove yourself. This generation comes in wanting to have an immediate impact. The challenge is to connect them with projects that have value and impact for the company (page 21).

What Compton and Miller are noticing in today's young work force is really inspiring and exciting, and it seems to us, something that should be deliberately cultivated in our schools. Our classrooms need to be places where students can find meaning, value, and purpose other than good grades. 

Additional Resources

Here is more information about people's desire to be intrinsically motivated:

On people's natural desire to have autonomy -- self-direction --, mastery, and purpose, take a look at Daniel Pink, author of Drive, in this RSA Animate talk:

Here's an engaging blog post from edutopia on unleashing student's intrinsic motivation.

Finally, here's Tony Wagner on Play, Passion and Purpose: