Motivated Individuals

Motivated Individuals

"Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done."

Motivation is such an important aspect of success. Without it, people tend only to do what they're told—and sometimes not even that.

When we're working with kids, some of the responsibility for motivating them falls to us. And here, helping kids increase their capacity for self-motivation is the key.

But there's another part to this principle that is equally important: giving people the autonomy, support, and trust they need to do their work well.

There's an important link here between autonomy and motivation: in general, the more autonomy we give people, the more self-motivated they become. Support plays an important roll, too, as it taps into our natural desire to get better at things. Finally, trust provides the glue that binds a team together.

In school, we resist giving people—teachers, students, just about everyone—because we worry that they won't get good results. But the problem is not with autonomy or potential abuses thereof; it's with the lack of daily empirical measurement and the removal of impediments to progress.

If we're just going to give everyone autonomy and send them on their way, we can expect a range of results, many of which may be poor. But if we balance autonomy with regular empirical measurement and support, we get all the value of highly motivated self-directed people and an effective way to help them move forward as efficiently as possible.

Much of the way we act is heavily influenced by the people around us, especially those who have power over us. When we aren't trusted, for example, we tend to become less trustworthy. But when we're given appropriate autonomy, and the support we need to use it wisely, we become more autonomous—more likely to do on our own what, in the past, others may have had to do for us.

Given autonomy and trust, kids may at times not perform as well as we would like. But if we keep our iterations short, our measurements frequent, and our support steady, short-term breakdowns are less likely to occur and when they do, they become valuable opportunities to inspect and adjust what we're doing so we can make changes that help us get the results we want.

The same approach works for principals and teachers, too. Or for parents and kids. Or for coaches and players. Autonomy with frequent empirical measurement and support contributes significantly to productivity and agility.


Add your feedback below. To keep track of who is saying what, use an H1 tag (a plus sign "+" in the edit window) to identify yourself. For example:

Steve Peha

The longer I work in education, the most convinced I am that motivation is the most important factor for me to understand and attend to. I have also come to the conclusion that I, personally, cannot motivate anyone—that the only true and lasting motivation is self-motivation.

Fortunately, we know a lot now about helping people improve their capacity for self-motivation. Agile seems to have been ahead of the curve here. Before the research was written, and books like Dan Pink's "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" came out, Agile teams were already applying the basic principles of self-motivation.

As Pink describes it, the best research we have suggests that motivation is the result of fulfilling three basic human needs: the need for autonomy, the need for mastery, and the need for purpose. Most of us, it turns out, have strong needs to be independent, to get better at things, and to connect with what is meaningful to us. Pink explains all of this in a short and very entertaining video.

I look at this issue through an even simpler lens: As a teacher, what kind of classroom do I want? I want a classroom where every kids is motivated to work toward mastery and meaning without needing much help from me. I want the what I call "the self-learning classroom."

If kids are working independently toward the mastery of meaningful learning, I have time and energy to move quickly through the room, taking empirical measurements of progress, removing impediments, and providing support to what will likely be a manageable number of students.

Principals could take this approach, too. But they would have to spend time every day in classrooms and discuss details of practice with their teachers. Then again, if you wanted to help your teachers be more effective, this is exactly what you'd do.

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