The Aspect of Motivation that I Missed

If you don’t have time to read all of this right now, just know this: Gretchen Rubin’s formulation of the “Four Tendencies” is brilliant, and I highly recommend it as a model for understanding what motivates people — others as well as ourselves. (I do hope you’ll come back and read through this post when you have time, but I’m serious: Look up her work, go to her website, take the quiz to find your tendency, the whole bit.)

So, then, confession time.

I missed a key aspect of motivation when I wrote the original edition of Quality Education that ASQC Quality Press published back in 1993, and then I repeated my error in the revised version I issued a few years ago. Specifically, I wrote about how schools generally offer more external than internal motivators, and how very often those don’t work to keep students interested and on track — a position that I still believe was correct, but I now know to be incomplete.

Why did I make that mistake? Because I didn’t know about the Four Tendencies model. It would have made my entire discussion about motivation much deeper and much more complete. In my defense, Ms. Rubin had not developed her model when I originally wrote Quality Education in the late ’80s. To my chagrin, however, she had written about the tendencies shortly before I put together my new edition, in her book Better Than Before — but I didn’t learn about them until this year.*

As I say, I don’t think what I wrote about motivation was specifically wrong, just that it could have been better. In chapter 27 of the new edition, for instance, while discussing the “psychology” portion of Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s “System of Profound Knowledge,” I wrote of employees:

Management classically has understood enough psychology to stress external motivation, often smothering internal motivation in the process; this is the legacy of B. F. Skinner and the behaviorists. The over-reliance on external factors (for example, pay, awards, time off) to motivate people essentially prostitutes them to the job, and can even rob them of esteem, dignity, and joy in their accomplishments….

Then in chapter 28, applying Deming’s system to education, I wrote of students’ motivations (and couldn’t resist throwing in a Star Trek reference):

Traditional educational psychology, like traditional management practice, has relied on external motivators to entice or coerce students into learning….

In “Miri,” an episode of the original Star Trek series, we find a look at motivation in education. A group of children is gathered together, playing school. One of them holds a hammer; he is the teacher. “What does a teacher say?” asks another of the children. The boy thinks for a moment before speaking, then emphasizes his words with the hammer as he says, “Study, study, study! Or bonk! bonk! bad kids!” That is external motivation.

Internal motivation is Plato sitting at the feet of Socrates. External motivation is the schoolmaster who raps your knuckles with a ruler. Internal motivation is the children coming to see Jesus. And how did he receive them? He took them in his arms and blessed them….

The extremes of the argument over the use of external motivators are poles apart. On one end managers and teachers believe that external motivation (for example, prizes, awards) is good if it helps one person rise above his previous level, no matter how many others may be hurt or demotivated. On the opposite end are those who believe that regardless of the number of people who appear to be helped by external motivators, they should be avoided if they hurt even one individual. I fall closer toward the latter than the former category.

When I wrote that, I never dreamed of juxtaposing internal and external motivators in the way Ms. Rubin does with inner and outer expectations in the Four Tendencies model. (I wish I had.)

By examining how different people may — or may not! — respond to expectations imposed on them from outside, or the expectations they have of themselves, Ms. Rubin divides all of us into four groups as shown in this graphic from her website:


The Four Tendencies model, developed by Gretchen Rubin.

Applying the Four Tendencies to the classroom, we see that some students respond well to the expectations inherent in the external motivators that many teachers use: they are the Obligers and the Upholders. (Ms. Rubin’s research has shown that Obligers form the largest cohort of the population, and I contend that the prevalence of Obligers is probably a necessary condition to developing a healthy, functioning society.) Those students who respond less well to external motivators are the Questioners and the Rebels. Based on my reading of her work, I now see that my call for discovering and relying more on internal than external motivators — i.e., finding and feeding students’ inner expectations — might work for Questioners, but I effectively missed the Rebel cohort entirely. I did not recognize their outlook at all, so I did not even consider their needs, nor did I try to find ways to help Rebels see the benefits of school and learning.

The aspect of motivation missing from Quality Education, then, is the idea that internal and external expectations and motivators are not a coin to be flipped or an either-or proposition to be considered. We don’t respond in the same way or to the same degree to each. Some of us respond well to both; some respond well to one and not the other; and some do not respond well to either.

Ms. Rubin explains that identifying our tendencies as to how readily we respond to each can help us understand our behavior and our relationships. Not just our personal relationships, but our relationships to institutions such as home and school and church, and our relationships to activities such as work and play and learning.

In sum, I find Ms. Rubin’s approach to be both more elegant and more complete than the simple internal-versus-external approach I took. Not that my approach was completely wrong — I still think what I wrote is sound, and that it’s important to recognize the differences between the types of motivators — but her approach is much better. I highly recommend her work — and I hope my readers will forgive my lack of insight and foresight.

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*Better Than Before came out in 2015. I only learned about the tendencies a few weeks ago, when I picked up Ms. Rubin’s 2017 book, appropriately titled The Four Tendencies.

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The Pride of Doing

Pride sometimes gets a bad rap. Often its bad rap is deserved. But sometimes pride is important.

For those of us raised in the Christian or Jewish traditions, or even marginally aware of some of the Old Testament’s aphorisms, pride’s place as a “deadly sin” is solidified in the book of Proverbs:

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

That usage, as I interpret it, is related to hubris, i.e., excessive pride, the kind of pride that exudes from puffed-up ego rather than solid character. In contrast is a lesser degree of pride, the type that is useful and necessary to everyday life and especially important to success in everyday life: the pride of doing something well.

This is not the pride of being — being good, being smart, being beautiful, being talented — but the pride of accomplishing, the pride of making, creating, discovering. The pride of doing is the pride that derives from building up the world. The former pride, the pride of being, only builds up ourselves.

The pride of doing, and doing well, is vital. If we had no pride in our work, for instance, we wouldn’t show it to others for their evaluation, their approval, or especially their purchase. When we have worked diligently and produced something of which we are proud, our degree of pride is likely to be proportional to our work’s value — if we have judged it properly. Not that we don’t see the flaws in it, but that we are rightly proud of having produced something of quality. That is, we are more likely to receive recognition or compensation in the open market for work we are proud of than for work we disdain. It only makes sense that if we are not proud of what we have produced, chances are others may not find much value in it.


(Image: “Vulcan Forging the Thunderbolts of Jupiter,” by Rubens, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Working hard and producing something of which we can be proud, then, is an important component to being successful. It doesn’t guarantee success — nothing does — but we increase our chances of success if we judge our own work fairly and honestly and our level of pride reflects its value.

In truth, being able to distinguish between things that are shoddy — things of which we should not be proud — and things which are excellent — things of which we should be proud — is an important skill. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses that skill because the only way to develop it is to have enough pride in our work to show it to someone who will give us honest feedback about its strengths and weaknesses, and then to be willing to listen to the feedback and make adjustments.

In my professional life I regularly see the work of writers who seem unable to distinguish good work from bad as it pertains to their own results. Whether they make the distinction when it comes to others’ work, I have no idea; but like those who suffer from the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” these writers display inordinate amounts of self-confidence and pride, having produced relatively mediocre work. In contrast, many of my writer friends — even some of the most successful — are actually quite humble about their own work (even work of which they are justly proud).

So, pride of doing is important in that we want to produce things that make us proud; however, that pride should be informed, accurate, and truthful. Otherwise, our pride will go before our destruction, at least so far as our work is concerned.

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A Lesson I Forgot (New Video)

Following up on the effectiveness/efficiency episode from last week, here’s a bit about a lesson I re-learned recently: how to be a bit more efficient with office work …

I keep trying to do better!

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Related Videos:
Don’t Sacrifice Effectiveness for Efficiency
Just Doing Our Best
We Are All Unfinished Products

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New Video: Just Doing Our Best

On Independence Day this year, I had the opportunity to experience glass-blowing — something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but not something I was prepared to do on my own. I would have failed miserably, and possibly done a good bit of damage even with my best efforts, if I had not had supervision, coaching, and expert guidance.

And, having this week learned that my best efforts in another endeavor were woefully inadequate, I recalled that Dr. W. Edwards Deming often said we were being “ruined by best efforts.” It’s not too hard to imagine how bad things might be in other areas of life — in business, in education, in the military or the government or the church — if everyone was doing their best but no one knew what they should do or how to do it.

So, in this episode, we look at glass-blowing, best efforts, and lessons learned from failure.

What do you think? Can we be “ruined by best efforts”?

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You May Also Like:
– Video: Perspective and Self-Improvement
– Video: Public Speaking Tip: Stand Up, If You Can
My YouTube channel

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Looking at Education as a System

Here’s a brief (5 minutes and change) video rundown of systems thinking and education, with a little take on why effectiveness is better than efficiency:

Do you think the education system near you is optimized to accomplish its overall goal, or do the internal components sometimes fight against each other to the detriment of the whole? Understanding how the pieces fit together is a good first step to getting the whole thing to work more effectively.

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Related:
– I cover the idea of education as a series of transformative processes in chapter 1 of Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It
– The debut episode of “Between the Black & the White” presented The Musashi-Heinlein School
– “Between the Black & the White” Series Introduction (extra episode)
– “Between the Black & the White” Host Introduction(extra episode)

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Zombie Blog Post: Always and Never — Best Efforts and Expectations

(Nothing horrific here: a “zombie” post only in the sense of coming back from the electronic dead.)

Here again I’m reprising an old blog post that I particularly like. It was published on this date in 2012 on the old NCSU-IES blog.*

I wrote the post in response to two items on another blog, in which Dr. Bret L. Simmons waxed eloquent on things we should “always” or “never” do to be successful leaders. I’m usually not a fan of absolute statements like that, but I found some good things, as you’ll see:

I encourage you to read both lists — Dr. Simmons on “Always” and Dr. Simmons on “Never” — because I’m just going to comment on a few parts.

One item from the “always” list that really resonates with me is, “Always show up on time, well prepared, and give your best effort.”

I find that the better I prepare the better I’m able to give my best effort; however, all too often, I disappoint myself. The outcome doesn’t match my expectation, so I suspect the effort wasn’t really my best. But I’m reminded of Dr. W. Edwards Deming‘s frequent challenges to his audiences that anyone who was not putting forth best efforts should stand and be recognized. No one did, of course, because so long as we’re sincere the effort we expend will be the best we can bring at that time and place. Best efforts don’t guarantee the best results.

I also find that my attempts to show up on time and prepared influence my expectations, such that I expect others to also show up the same way. Unfortunately, we have a phenomenon around here called “Cary Time,” in which chronological starting time is more a suggestion than a requirement (or, for fans of either Ghostbusters or Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s more a guideline than a rule). This brings up another item from the “always” list — “Always expect the best but prepare for the worst” — which fits well with one from the “never” list: “Never apologize for having reasonable expectations of other people.”

Dr. Simmons also recommends, “Never make excuses when you fail to meet the reasonable expectations of others,” which along with the previous item presupposes that we agree on the reasonableness of those expectations. We might differ in our idea of what a “reasonable” expectation is, and I suppose I might be guilty of having higher-than-reasonable expectations. Perhaps I should apologize for that, but I’m not going to — instead I’ll try to apply another of Dr. Simmons’s recommendations: “Always maintain perspective.”

Which seems a reasonable point to close. I don’t know how much value there is in long lists of things to “always” or “never” do, or even in blog posts about such lists, except that they may help us think about things a little differently and take stock of how we’re doing.

We’re doing our best, and I hope we’re doing well.

Perpetual
Always? Never? When is it, anyway? (Image: “Perpetual,” by Ghetu Daniel, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

In some ways my blogging today is all of one accord, since my post this morning — Don’t Expect Instant Transformation — also discussed the topic of expectations. I’m gradually learning how to give myself a bit more grace when it comes to tempering my expectations of myself, and trying to put into practice advice I first learned a quarter century ago: not to “let perfect be the enemy of good.”

That’s sound advice for all of us.

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*Readers who have fought these zombie blog posts before may recall that the old IES blog unfortunately no longer exists.

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Cover Reveal for the New Edition of ‘Quality Education’

I shared this with my newsletter subscribers a couple of weeks ago,* but here’s the cover to the completely revised and updated edition of Quality Education, which will be available as soon as we work out a few last details.

Cover design by Christopher Rinehart. (Click for larger image.)

 

The full title of the book is Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It, and it’s updated and completely restructured from the original edition. That version was published in the early 1990s by the American Society for Quality Control, and was one of the first books to apply the organizational and operational principles of continual improvement to the educational system.

The book presents education as a transformative process and covers expectations, roles, and inhibiting factors for parents, students, teachers, and administrators. With special emphasis on the quality philosophy of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the text adapts Deming’s systems flowchart, Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle, and “14 Points” to the problems and processes of education.

The book also examines education’s customers, differing definitions of quality with respect to education, and the failure of well-intentioned reform efforts such as the “National Education Goals” (also known as “Goals 2000”) of the late 1980s. It includes chapters on programs for gifted and talented students, values education, and curriculum and other standards, and presents strategy ideas and discusses leadership required to develop and sustain quality education.

As we get closer to releasing the final version into the world, I’ll post updates!

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*Yes, if you subscribe to my newsletter you will get news like this before anyone else, too.

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Upcoming ASPJ Article

Sometimes I think I should stick with non-fiction. I received word that my brief article, “The Mission Matters Most” is scheduled to appear in the Fall issue of Air & Space Power Journal (the USAF’s professional journal).

A couple of years ago, ASPJ published my article, “How the Air Force Embraced ‘Partial Quality,'” which generated some discussion and eventually a review/rebuttal in the Fall 2007 issue. This new article is something of a rebuttal to the rebuttal, which is what “The Merge” section of the journal intends:

In air combat, “the merge” occurs when opposing aircraft meet and pass each other. Then they usually “mix it up.” In a similar spirit, Air and Space Power Journal’s “Merge” articles present contending ideas.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

I read with interest Randall Schwalbe’s critique …. [which] is well thought out but somewhat misses the point.

… Mr. Schwalbe made the statement [that] the “fundamental flaw” (p. 16) of my article was that I had confused “quality with process improvement.” That my article dealt with the way the USAF implemented quality improvement ideas in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and attempted to show that the ideas themselves were sound but the execution flawed, did not seem to come through: my execution, apparently, was itself flawed.

… more salient to this discussion, the commercial success of Toyota, Ford, or Motorola, etc., is not the best argument for convincing the military that these new tools and techniques are germane to their mission. Obviously I did not make that point clear enough in my original article, so let me reiterate: for the rank-and-file to see Lean or any other improvement effort as vital to their service’s continued success, these efforts must be adapted to the core military mission as much as (if not more than) they are adapted to ancillary functions.

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Underperforming … the Story of My Life

Best of the Web Today pointed us to this article from The Boston Globe, which reported that administrators, principals, and teachers in Massachusetts are agonizing over the impact to morale of labeling schools “underperforming” or “chronically underperforming” that generate poor test results.

We can only hope that those administrators, principals, and teachers agonize half as much over why their schools turn out so many graduates (and non-graduates) who read poorly, figure poorly, and reason poorly compared to the numbers of graduates they turn out who read, figure, and reason well. Inasmuch as (to give them the benefit of the doubt) they presumably are doing their best, they have a point: hanging a label promotes more shame than improvement, because the label itself doesn’t explain how to improve.

Who among us hasn’t experienced the difficulty of doing one’s best without knowing exactly what to do or how to do it? We might label ourselves as “underperforming” or worse, but if we’re serious about what we’re trying to do we will find someone to teach us what to do and how to do it well. If we’re not serious, we should look for something else to do.

My writing career is like that. Some things I do pretty well, others not so well at all. So I seek out people who, hopefully, will help me overcome my weaknesses; which is why, in six weeks, I’ll be in Utah at Dave Wolverton’s writing workshop.

I hope those educators can do the same: admit their weaknesses, and find real experts who can help them overcome those weaknesses. But as long as these things have been going on (far longer than the decade-and-a-half since my book came out), I don’t have a lot of hope.

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