The Puzzle of Motivation

I enjoyed Dan Pink’s YouTube video “The Puzzle of Motivation”, explaining his theory of ‘drive’.  The video describes what research tells us about motivation and how businesses use motivational strategies, and it questions the mismatch between the two. He describes what he believes are the three elements of true motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  I love RSA Animate videos, and I found one on a similar lecture.  Take a look!



His book, Drive, details his theory and gives techniques for putting these motivational strategies into action.  The book describes “the surprising truth about what motivates us”.

Most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake…The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.


Understanding this theory will improve my teaching and enrich the experience and motivation of my students if I keep these elements in mind as I plan my course and interact and teach the students:

  • Autonomy: our desire to be self-directed
    • In Speechreading, ask the students for real-life examples of miscommunication they would like to problem-solve.  Ask the students for topics they would like to address in class; many are universal (e.g. restaurants, telephone conversations, group conversations),  but getting the ideas from the class gives them some ownership of the topics.  Plus, they might come up with other great ideas!
  • Mastery: our desire to improve
    • In Speechreading, if activities are fun and the students see that they are improving at trouble-shooting difficult listening situations, or gaining the confidence to be more assertive, and it is making a difference in their interactions with others, they will be motivated to continue to learn and improve.
  • Purpose: our desire to make a contribution
    • In Speechreading, group discussions allow students who have more experience, skills, and knowledge to share those talents with other students (and me!) and make a contribution to learning in the classroom.

I think this view of motivation applies not only to our students as they learn but also to us, as teachers, as we facilitate that learning in others.  Pink suggests that we continue to learn and grow and make the world a little bit better if we combine motivation with the answer to these two questions on a daily basis:

  • What’s my story?
  • Am I better today than yesterday?

With a better grasp of Pink’s theory of ‘drive’, maybe motivation is not so puzzling after all.

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