Understanding the science behind topics related to human behavior can be extremely powerful for learning businesses. And Daniel H. Pink is the author of six provocative bestselling books that uncover the truth about these complex behaviors including, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, and most recently, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
Pink is also the creator of the Pinkcast, a series of short videos that feature science-based tools and tips for working smarter and living better. And his TED Talk on the science of motivation is one of the 10 most-watched TED Talks of all time, with more than 23 million views.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, Celisa talks with Dan about several of the themes he explores in his books that have implications for learning businesses. This includes topics such as Motivation 3.0, learning goals vs. performance goals, persuasion, and the importance of timing when it comes to learning.
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Listen to the Show
Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Celisa interviews bestselling author, Dan Pink.
[02:30] – Introduction to Dan.
Dan starts by talking about what motivates human beings, which he points out is not a singular thing because human beings are a mix of drives:
- Motivation 1.0 – our biological drive, which satisfies our biological needs.
- Motivation 2.0 – we respond reasonably predictably to rewards and punishments in our environment.
- Motivation 3.0 – basically, human beings do things for all types of reasons—because they like doing them, because it’s the right thing to do, because they get better at it, because it’s challenging, etc.
So it’s important to look at all three of these drives together because you have to have a three-dimensional view of human beings. And until recently, organizations were only taking a two-dimensional view of human beings—meeting biological needs and a system of rewards and punishments.
[06:33] – It seems to me that there’s both clear application of Motivation 3.0 to the internal staff of a learning business and also to the learners. Let’s focus on that second group—the learners. What implications or applications of Motivation 3.0 do you see for how learning businesses might better support the learners they serve?
Dan says there are definitely huge implications. But he first clarifies that what he’s saying isn’t philosophical or his opinion on how to run organizations, rather he’s looking at fifty years of science around motivation.
There’s a certain kind of motivator used in organizations called a controlling contingent motivator (Dan refers to it as an “if, then reward”). And the research shows these are very effective for simple tasks with short time horizons. This is because human beings like rewards and they get us to focus narrowly.
However, the same body of research tells us that “if, then rewards” are far less effective for more complex tasks with longer time horizons. This is because rewards get our attention in such a focused, narrow way that’s effective if you want a narrow focus. But for complicated tasks, you want to have a more expansive focus. When the finish line is far away, you need something else to keep you sustained over the long haul.
So when it comes to what this means for learning, Dan talks about how it depends what your learning objectives are and that you need to understand the difference between learning goals and performance goals.
Our mistake that we make in organizations is we think that if people have achieved a performance goal (passing the test), then they have achieved the learning goal. And this isn’t always true, something Dan stresses is enormously important.
Dan also shares an example to highlight this about how he took French for six years, got straight A’s, and can’t speak French. This is because he was narrowly focused entirely on the performance goal. So when we focus too much on the performance goals, it can actually inhibit learning. And this is very paradoxical so he encourages people to think about their own experiences (as he did with learning French).
But Dan explains that it’s complicated because certain kinds of learning objectives aren’t inherently bad, it’s just a matter of what you’re doing to get there. For example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with grades, it’s just depends on how they’re used. Because we know that we learn from information and feedback, when grades are used for that purpose, they are useful. However, when grades are the entire point of the exercise, and the class is structured so that a passing grade means you learned something, that’s what isn’t true.
[14:36] – A further discussion about how to make use of learning objectives/grades to ensure the focus is really on the learning goals as opposed to the performance goals. Dan offers an example of this (using a learning objective in French) to show how to make sure you’re really focusing on the learning.
See our previous episodes related to motivation, Exploring Motivation and Learning and Getting Contagious – and Curious – with Jonah Berger.
[16:57] – If your learning business is looking for a partner to help you create and deliver engaging and motivating learning experiences, we encourage you to check out our sponsor.
CommPartners helps learning businesses conceive, develop, and fulfill their online education strategy. Their solutions begin with Elevate LMS, an award-winning learning platform that provides a central knowledge community and drives learner engagement. To extend the value of Elevate, CommPartners provides a wide range of online education services including curriculum design, instructional design, fully managed Webinars, Webcasts, livestream programs, and virtual conferences.
Persuasion and Listening
[17:46] – In To Sell Is Human, you write, “Today, both sales and non-sales selling depend more on the creative, heuristic, problem-finding skills of artists than on the reductive, algorithmic, problem-solving skills of technicians.” [Chapter 6, “Clarity,” p. 129].
What advice do you have for how those working in learning businesses can cultivate those creative, heuristic, problem-finding skills?
Dan says that one of the most fundamental skills in any kind of influence and persuasion is perspective taking—can you get out of your own head and see things from someone else’s point of view? And this is important on any level of learning businesses. He points out that most of us aren’t very good at this so one of the first things to do is recognize this and next, take small steps to get better at it.
Dan notes that one of the things people don’t do a very good job of is listening. And it’s not taught in school like reading and writing because the expectation is that if you have ears, you can listen—and that’s just not true.
To get better at listening, Dan recommends:
- When someone else is talking, don’t think about what you’re going to say next. Actually listen to what they are saying.
- Before you respond, pause and make sure what they said has settled in. And, even better—
- Before you respond, pause, AND repeat what they said in your own words. And then offer what you were going to say next.
If people do these things, slow down, pay attention and actually listen (rather than waiting for their turn to talk), Dan says you can actually get much better at influence and persuasion.
The other aspect of this is it will help us understand our market better and know what our learners need.
See our related episode, Pre-suaded to Learn with Robert Cialdini.
Leveraging Timing of Learning Experiences
[23:58] – Based on what you learned in researching and writing When, what recommendations do you have for learning businesses about how to leverage timing to achieve the best learning results and outcomes?
Dan starts by explaining what we really mean by timing because it’s multifaceted. Again, he looks at the (complicated) research about time in the various different fields. So things like, how does our performance or mood change throughout the course of a day or how do breaks affect our performance and learning? Or how do beginnings, midpoints, and endings affect us? He says all of these yield lessons for learning organizations.
He discusses how our brain power/cognitive ability is different at different times in the day, which has huge implications for learning businesses. But the premise for so much of what goes on in organizations is that it doesn’t matter what time we schedule meetings, courses, seminars, etc.
But it does matter and there’s a mountain range of evidence showing that brainpower changes throughout the course of a day. (He references a couple specific research studies, which show this). This is important for learning businesses because when scheduling in-person trainings or seminars, the time of day makes a huge difference—it’s not simply a logistical issue.
When should be given as much weight as what. And answering why matters too. So if you get the why correct, you’ll have more motivated learners. If you get the when correct, you’ll have their brains functioning better.
Sponsor: AUTHENTIC Learning Labs
[30:11] – If you’re looking for help in figuring out the why, the what, or the when for your learning business, we suggest you check out our sponsor.
AUTHENTIC Learning Labs is an e-learning company that offers products and services to help improve your current investments in education. One key product is Authentic Analytics, a dedicated suite of visualization reports to help analyze and predict the performance of education programs. Organizations use Authentic Analytics to easily scan through volumes of data in intuitive visuals, chart performance trends, and quickly spot opportunities, issues, and potential future needs.
On the Horizon for Humans and How We Learn
[30:59] –When you think big picture about what’s on the horizon for humans and how we live in the coming five years or so, what most excites you, and what implications do you see for learning?
Dan shares something that came out in the research for When is the importance of breaks in learning. We’ve absorbed the ethic that the way to get things done/achieve/learn is to power through and he says that’s fundamentally flawed and just not true. In fact there’s massive evidence showing breaks are part of our learning.
He says we’re also having a re-reckoning in this country regarding the importance of sleep—not only for well being in general, but also related to learning. So in many ways he thinks we’re going to have a more three-dimensional view of what learning is. It’s not simply sitting and grinding away, but rather how to prepare your mind and body for the possibilities of learning.
One of the challenges (particularly for learning businesses) related to all of this is to what extent we can do more self-directed learning. Dan thinks one of the most potent learning technologies/platforms out there is YouTube because increasingly, people go there when they want to learn how to do something. And there’s something around that appeal for YouTube that he thinks can offer lessons for learning organizations.
See our related episode, Celebrating the Self-Directed Learner.
Dan adds that he also thinks we’re going to be reckoning with the social side of learning. So we need to look at what are some ways to facilitate/accelerate learning in a social way that isn’t the traditional classroom setting.
See our related episode, Defining and Designing Social Learning.
He recommends that we look for the bright spots (what’s happening in learning that’s successful) to try and better understand it.
[37:15] –What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Dan talks about his experience completing a media fellowship in Japan and how powerful it was to experience everyday life in another country for several months.
[38:04] –How to connect with Dan and/or learn more:
[42:15] – Wrap-Up
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[44:04] – Sign off