According to Daniel H. Pink, in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us , rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. But terrible for solving complex conceptual problems. When rewards (i.e, grades) narrow our focus we are kept from seeing the wide view that allows for new solutions to old ways of doing things.
Researchers such as Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile have found that external rewards and punishments — both carrots and sticks — can work nicely when a task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion. But they can be devastating when you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.
Those sorts of challenges — solving novel problems or creating something the world didn’t know it was missing — depend heavily on … the intrinsic motivation principle of creativity, which holds, in part: ‘Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity; controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity.’!’ In other words, the central tenets of Motivation 2.0 [external ‘carrot and stick’ motivation] may actually impair performance of the heuristic, right-brain work on which modern economies depend.
We need to begin to realize that teaching and learning is not about grades but about solving problems and creating in different meaningful ways. When we touch the learner’s inner desire to do something because they find it deeply satisfying and personally challenging, we inspire them to the highest levels of creativity.