Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rewards Don't Work

About thirty years ago I opened a school to teach people windsurfing. You see, I LOVED to windsurf. My idea was to turn my passion for windsurfing into a summer business that would bring me some extra income.

I didn't expect that my windsurfing business would kill my interest in windsurfing. But that's exactly what happened. My hobby became my job, and I was soon hating it.

What I experienced is not a bit unusual. If you do what you do for pay, you probably will not enjoy your work. If you go to work because you love what you do, well, you'll probably love what you do.

I ran across an interesting article online that discusses an experiment that demonstrated that rewards don't work. Rewards actually are counter-productive. The experiment this article describes was done with preschool children who liked to draw. If children were given rewards for drawing, they began to draw less than other children who were not rewarded for drawing.

You can read that article here: Rewards.

Why do I mention this here on Mr. Kindergarten? To suggest that you avoid rewarding your child (or student, if you're a teacher) and trust the stronger and much more reliable motivator: intrinsic motivation.


vickie said...

Well HURRAY!!! nicely put. We are huge believers in rewards NOT working and not wanting them to be part of our children's education. People still think we're's such a hugely accepted practive...guess because it can change behavior but in the long run does a lot of damage. after reading alfie kohn's book "punished by rewards" we were changed just makes sense! thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

Dan, this is fascinating. I tend to think of "job" as that which I do to pay my bills, buy groceries, etc. "Work" is what used to be referred to as a "calling". There are a few people who manage to merge work and job, so that they earn their living through their work, or calling. Most of us have to juggle the two, and I've always kind of considered that an obstacle. But your observation suggests that maybe it's not an obstacle, maybe it's a blessing.


Barbra Stephens said...

Couldn't agree more.I love to draw! I have worked as a professional artist- made great money(hated it) and when I took art classes in school I failed every one. Perhaps some people are meant to do work that is "rewarding" on the inside. I teach- therefore I am poor...but rich on the inside.
I see the same finding in preschool children, too. Great post, Dan!

Dan Gurney said...

Kudos to Alfie Kohn for writing that book. He definitely got me thinking about this issue and seeing how counterproductive rewards are. I recommend his book to everyone.

Dan Gurney said...

Jim, yes! It's helpful also to think of work in the sense of... this flashlight works. When you're working, your functioning usefully. It is useful to think of WORK in terms of serving your purpose than in terms of earning your living.

Dan Gurney said...

Barbra: we're in the same club. Except that poverty is a pretty relative word. Poor people in the US still are likely to have plumbing, electricity, phone service, access to public transportation, mail service, etc. none of which are available to the villagers in Africa my son serves in the Peace Corps. Actually I don't feel poor at all, except in comparison to those Goldman Sachs employess who were paid $700,000 bonuses paid for by taxpayer bailout money.