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President's Message

What Drives Us? The Power of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

Philip J. Lazarus

We know that the richest experiences in our lives aren't when we are clamoring for validation by others, but when we're listening to our own voice—doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause bigger than ourselves.
— Daniel Pink

Imagine it is 1996 and you are told the following: I am going to describe two encyclopedias, one just out and the other will be launched in a few years. Predict which one will be more successful in 2012. The first encyclopedia is created by Microsoft. They will hire a cadre of professional writers and editors and pay them well to produce hundreds of thousands of articles. Microsoft will sell it on CD-ROMs and online. The second encyclopedia will be produced by tens of thousands of volunteers who will work for free, writing, editing, and fact checking articles for fun. It will cost nothing to the consumer and will exist in cyberspace. Fast forward to 2012. One of these encyclopedias is the most popular and the largest in the world and the other no longer exists. Which is which?

On October 31, 2009, Microsoft closed down MSN Encarta. Meanwhile, Wikipedia had become the largest encyclopedia in the world. Wikipedia, just 9 years after its inception in 2000, had more than 17 million articles in some 270 languages (Pink, 2009). What happened? To understand this phenomenon, we must appreciate what Daniel Pink calls Motivation 3.0.

According to Pink, the first human operating system, Motivation 1.0, deals with basic human survival. Its successor, Motivation 2.0, focuses on external rewards and punishments. However, in our interconnected 21st century world, Motivation 2.0 is proving incompatible with how we motivate others and ourselves. It is not that a carrot and stick approach to motivation does not work. If so, this approach never would have flourished so long or accomplished so much. In fact, it can be most effective for rule-based routine tasks and for tasks that are boring and tedious.

However, the carrot and stick approach has considerable disadvantages when trying to inspire intrinsic motivation because few people appreciate being manipulated even if they are provided with extrinsic rewards. In 1999, Deci, Ryan, and Koestner reanalyzed nearly 3 decades of studies related to extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. They summarized their findings in the following:

Careful considerations of reward effects reported in 128 experiments lead to the conclusion that tangible rewards tend to have a substantial negative effect on intrinsic motivation. When institutions, schools, businesses, and athletic teams, for example, focus on short-term and opt for controlling people's behavior, they do considerable long-term damage. (p. 659)

Pink points out the seven deadly flaws of the carrot and stick approach to motivation. Specifically, this approach can (a) extinguish intrinsic motivation; (b) diminish performance; (c) crush creativity; (d) crowd out good behavior; (e) encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior; (f) become addictive; and (g) foster short-term thinking.

Consequently, we need an upgrade to Motivation 3.0 to avoid these negative outcomes. Pink asserts that the secret to 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 our world and ourselves. The three elements of Motivation 3.0 are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

I believe we currently focus almost exclusively on using Motivation 2.0 in our public schools. And, in some instances, teachers and students may be operating on Motivation 1.0—sheer survival. When I view what is happening in our schools today and the emphasis on reducing teacher autonomy, narrowing the curriculum, decreasing teacher support (which undermines their sense of mastery), bashing our educators, and using the carrot and stick approach for rewarding and punishing teachers and other school personnel for students' performance on high-stakes tests, it is easy to become pessimistic. I believe we are missing valuable opportunities to foster nurturing and motivating school environments by not upgrading to Motivation 3.0.

Hundreds of studies conclude that human beings have an innate drive to be autonomous, selfdetermined, and connected to each other in meaningful ways. Consequently, we as school psychologists must determine if the need for autonomy, mastery, and purpose is being promoted in the educational communities in which we serve. If not, how can we help reshape attitudes toward motivation to benefit of students and staff alike? As noted by Pink, when the drive for autonomy, mastery, and purpose is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives. So I ask, how can you use your understanding of Motivation 3.0 to enrich your life and the school communities you serve? How can you liberate that drive?


Deci, E. L., Ryan, E. M., & Koestner, R. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627–688.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.