Understanding the science behind human behavior can be extremely powerful for learning businesses. Daniel H. Pink is the author of six provocative, bestselling books that uncover the truth about complex behaviors, including Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, and, most recently, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.
Dan 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 25 most popular, with more than 29 million views.
In this redux episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Celisa Steele talks with Dan about themes he explores in his books that have implications for learning businesses, including motivation 3.0, learning goals versus performance goals, persuasion, and the importance of timing when it comes to learning.
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[00:00] – Intro
[02:04] – Dan and Celisa talk more about Dan’s background.
When it comes to what motivates human beings, it’s not a singular thing because human beings are a mix of drives.
- Motivation 1.0 is our biological drive to satisfy our biological needs.
- Motivation 2.0 deals with rewards and punishments in our environment.
- Motivation 3.0 reflects the reality that human beings do things for all types of reasons—because they like doing them, because it’s the right thing to do, because they can get better at it, because it’s challenging, etc.
It’s important to look at all three types of motivation to get a three-dimensional view of human beings. And, until recently, many organizations were only taking a two-dimensional view of human beings—meeting biological needs and using a system of rewards and punishments.
[06:07] – What are the implications or applications of motivation 3.0 for how learning businesses might better support the learners they serve?
There are huge implications. And, it’s important to note, what Dan writes about isn’t an opinion; it’s based on 50 years of science around motivation.
There’s a kind of motivator used in organizations called a “controlling contingent motivator,” or an “if, then” reward. 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 focus our attention in such a narrow way.
Complicated tasks, on the other hand, often require a more expansive focus. When the finish line is far away, you need something else to sustain you over the long haul.
When it comes to what this means for learning, it depends on your learning objectives, and you need to understand the difference between learning goals and performance goals.
Performance goal is passing the test. Learning goal is, “Do I know something about safety, and can I apply it in my life in a way that makes the workplace safer?” And our mistake that we make in organizations is that we think that, if people have achieved the performance goal (passing the test), then they have achieved the learning goal. And that’s not true.Dan Pink
[10:38] – Dan shares a personal example to of performance goals versus learning goals. He took French for six years, got straight As, and can’t speak French. He was narrowly focused entirely on the performance goal (getting a good grade).
When we focus too much on performance goals, it can actually inhibit learning. This is paradoxical, but, if you think about your own experiences, you’ll likely have an example like Dan’s about high school French.
Learning objectives aren’t bad. What matters is what you do to achieve those objectives. For example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with grades, but how they’re used makes them more or less helpful in learning. Humans learn from feedback. When grades serve a feedback purpose, they’re useful. But, when grades are the entire point of the exercise, that can risk learning because a passing grade doesn’t necessarily mean you learned something.
[13:54] – Dan and Celisa discuss how to use learning objectives while ensuring the focus is on learning goals as opposed to performance goals.
See two earier episodes on motivation: Exploring Motivation and Learning and Getting Contagious – and Curious – with Jonah Berger.
[15:28] – At Tagoras, we’re experts in the global business of lifelong learning, and we use our expertise to help clients better understand their markets, connect with new customers, make the right investment decisions, and grow their learning businesses.
We achieve these goals through expert market assessment, strategy formulation, and platform selection services. If you are looking for a partner to help your learning business achieve greater reach, revenue, and impact, learn more at tagoras.com/services.
Persuasion and Listening
[15:58] – In To Sell Is Human, Dan writes, “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.” How can those working in learning businesses cultivate those creative, heuristic, problem-finding skills?
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? Most of us aren’t very good at this, so one of the first things to do is recognize that, and then take small steps to get better at it.
Most people don’t do a good job of is listening. Listening isn’t taught in school 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.
- Before you respond, pause and make sure what they said has settled in.
- Before you respond, pause, and then repeat what they said in your own words. Then you speak.
Listening better can help you get better at influence and persuasion. Listening better can also 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
Timing is multifaceted, and the research about time is complicated. Timing covers things like how performance and mood changes throughout the course of a day, how breaks affect our performance and learning, and how beginnings, midpoints, and endings affect us. All of these yield lessons for learning businesses.
Our brain power and cognitive ability is different at different times of the day, which has huge implications for learning businesses. 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. There’s a mountain range of evidence showing that brain power changes throughout the course of a day. (Dan 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 difference.
If you get the why correct, you have people who will be more motivated learners. If you get the when correct, you’re going to have their brains functioning better. And, again, these are all strategic questions. They’re not simply logistical questions.Dan Pink
On the Horizon for Humans and How We Learn
[27:25] – When you think about what’s on the horizon for humans and how we live in the next five years or so, what most excites you, and what implications do you see for learning?
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 and the way to achieve or learn is to power through, and that’s fundamentally flawed. There’s massive evidence showing breaks are part of our learning.
We’re also having a re-reckoning in the U.S. regarding the importance of sleep, not only for well-being in general but also related to learning.
We need a more three-dimensional view of what learning is. It’s not simply sitting and grinding away; it’s also about how to prepare your mind and body for the possibilities of learning.
Self-directed learning is another area to look at. Can learning businesses support more self-directed learning? One of the most potent learning technologies and platforms that exists is YouTube because people go there when they want to learn how to do something. Better understanding YouTube’s appeal and how individuals use it to learn can offer lessons for learning businesses.
See our related episode Celebrating the Self-Directed Learner.
The social side of learning will also be a factor in the near future. We need to look at ways to facilitate and accelerate learning in social ways that don’t rely soley on the traditional classroom setting.
See our related episodes on social learning:
- Defining and Designing Social Learning
- The Re-Trending of Social Learning
- Learning in the Social Age with Julian Stodd
- Tool Talk: Social Learning Mixer
Dan recommends that learning businesses look for the bright spots—what’s happening in learning that’s successful—and then try to better understand how and why those bright spots are bright.
[33:22] – 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.
[37:43] – Wrap-up
Dan Pink is a bestselling author and speaker. You can learn more about Dan and his work on his Web site at https://www.danpink.com. We also recommend the Pinkcast, a series of short, free videos featuring science-based tools and tips for working smarter and living better.
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Episodes on Related Topics:
- Exploring Motivation and Learning
- Getting Contagious – and Curious – with Jonah Berger
- The Re-Trending of Social Learning
- Pre-suaded to Learn with Robert Cialdini