This podcast was originally published on In Their Own Words for The W. Edwards Deming Institute
In this second episode of the Motivation series, Andrew and David P. Langford discuss how power dynamics impact motivation and why autonomy is a big factor in motivation.
0:00:02.6 Andrew Stotz: My name is Andrew Stotz, and I’ll be your host as we continue our journey into the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Today, I am continuing my discussion with David P. Langford, who has devoted his life to applying Dr. Deming’s philosophy to education, and he offers us his practical advice for implementation. Today’s topic is, Who Controls Motivation? David, take it away.
0:00:29.4 David P. Langford: Thanks, Andrew. So we’re starting this five podcast series. In the last podcast, we talked a lot about the difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Here in this five-podcast series, we’re gonna discuss how do you actually create intrinsic motivation environments so that people want to do [chuckle] the work or the learning or whatever it is you might be getting them to do [chuckle] or task them to do. Right? So the first element, and I’ve been researching this for now over 40 years, and I’ve never found anything that contradicts what I’m gonna share with the listeners over these five podcasts. And these are five elements of intrinsic motivation that I guarantee you, if you start applying these, you will see either your students, your own children, employees, yourself, [chuckle] you will see people more motivated to do the work that they’re doing, if you think about these five factors that we’re gonna be going over.
0:01:48.8 DL: So the first factor that I wanna talk about today is the element of control or autonomy in situation. So when I have control over a situation, I have autonomy, I’m self-motivating. I’m doing things in that environment by myself. So we have a lot of buzzwords in management words like empowerment. And well, even a word like empowerment means I have all the power, and so I’m gonna give you some of it. [laughter] I’m gonna empower you to… But you can only do this a little bit, I don’t want you to do a lot of stuff. I just want you to do… Be empowered to just do this thing, kind of a thing, and that’s also an element of control, so.
0:02:38.6 DL: But control is… Our economy is built into the human condition, and when we tap into that in managing people in either in a classroom or a workforce or a whole group of teachers, whoever it might be, yes, the more I set up an environment where I’m allowing people to take control or have autonomy over what they’re doing, the more I will see them be motivated. The more I take that away, and I start controlling everything and running stuff, I start to be really motivated, [chuckle] and I see this a lot with teachers. They’re really motivated by controlling everything, controlling all those kids, controlling the process, controlling having… And they have total autonomy in the classroom to do whatever they wanna do basically, and so they’re really motivated by that. Well, when they start giving up that control or that autonomy to children, a lot of times, they become de-motivated.
0:03:43.5 DL: [chuckle] I’ll never forget this story. I was working with a university,in California, and I had one of the teachers, one of the professors, that really wanted to learn about this and how to run a classroom, so we talked a lot about… I’ve worked with him individually and talked about, “How do you set up your classroom so that when the students come to your classroom, basically they start to have autonomy and control over the process and what’s happening?” Well, one day I get a phone call, and I answered the phone, and this guy is whispering to me. He said, “I think I need some quality therapy.” And I said, [chuckle] “Why? What, what’s going on?” And he said, “Well, I had a flat tire on the way to school. And so the university has a policy if the professor doesn’t show up in the first 10 minutes, everybody can leave. So I was 30 minutes late, and I was just sure I was gonna walk into the room and everybody’s gonna be gone.” But he said, “I walked into the room and nobody even knew that I was missing.They were all working in teams and working on their projects and discussing stuff and doing what is they’re doing?” He said, “I need some therapy.” [chuckle] Because for him, that was de-motivating that they didn’t need him. Right? So it’s a very powerful, powerful concept once you start to get it, but you also have to understand that you, as the manager, of that situation are part of the equation, that as well, right? So you almost have to start the… Your motivation by seeing other people taking on the control of the situation and having autonomy to do what it is that they need to do. I was in a kindergarten classroom in North Carolina years ago, and the teacher had been through my training and stuff, and she invited me to come to her classroom.
0:05:34.6 DL: And so I went there early in the morning and just watched, and those little kids came in and they just knew what to do. And they all went to their tables and they got their stuff out. They were talking with each other and interrelating. And it was probably at least 40 minutes before the teacher intervened in some way. It’s the kinda thing where I have to interrupt your learning to [chuckle] motivate you or tell you something. But those little kids had… Five and six-year-olds just had total control of that first 40 minutes. And were happy about it. And yeah, there was a child or two that weren’t quite doing what it is they were supposed to do, and what’d the teacher do? She goes over and sits down beside them and starts working with them and explaining stuff and, “Oh, I see you might be having a little trouble with this and… ” Right?
0:06:36.4 AS: Maybe just had a bad family day.
0:06:39.0 DL: Yeah. Now, that’s totally different than, “Everybody get in here, sit down, be quiet, don’t talk to each other, don’t touch him. I’m gonna control this situation, and I’m gonna tell you what to do and… Okay, this is what I want you to do, and you go do it, and once you’ve done that, come back and sit down again.” Well, that’s the old teacher mentality [chuckle] that I have to control the situation, and there are times where you need to exert that kind of control. If there’s a fire in the building, you might have to control the situation, but sometimes teachers will bring that up to me and I’ll say, “Look, what if there’s a fire in the building and you were incapacitated or taken out by the fire? Would all your students know what to do? [chuckle] Or maybe you were out of the classroom when that erupted, that… Would they all know what they’re supposed to do, regardless of whether you were there or not?”
0:07:40.1 AS: Right.
0:07:41.6 DL: Or are they just gonna burn up, because they’re waiting for somebody to tell them what to do? So, that’s the element of control. So, how do you get that? One of the ways to get that is to give people more knowledge of the situation. Just the example that I just gave you. When those students have the knowledge of what to do if there’s something that goes on or something happens, and they have the autonomy to do it, and so maybe you actually practice that. Well, I’m giving you knowledge of what to do in that kind of situation. And when people become more and more knowledgeable about what’s going on, they feel like they have much more control over their situation, what’s happening. That makes sense?
0:08:36.9 AS: Yeah, and I think what I’m thinking about then is talking with kids like, what’s the objective? If there’s a fire, get out of the building. And, we have… That’s our objective. How do we do that? Well, we try to stay in line because we hold hands, and that helps us keep, but…
0:08:52.8 DL: And we don’t wanna run over each other, and… Right?
0:08:55.1 AS: It reminds me of this story of when Dr. Deming talked about cleaning a table. And he was saying something like, “How could a worker really know how to clean a table if you don’t tell them what the table is gonna be used for?”
0:09:13.0 DL: That’s right. So that’s knowledge, right? Are we gonna operate on this table? We’re just gonna eat lunch on it? Oh, well, just… Those are two different types of cleaning, aren’t they? [chuckle] And so, how can I do a good job if I don’t know? I don’t have knowledge of that situation or… And, you see this in little children. They’re asking why. You’re telling them to do this and they say, “Well, why?” Well, because…
0:09:43.4 AS: ‘Cause I said so.
0:09:45.1 DL: ‘Cause I said so, right? Well, and if you don’t do it, I’m just gonna make your life so difficult that you wish you would have.
0:09:52.0 AS: Right.
0:09:52.6 DL: That’s not good management, that’s just manipulation of somebody. And yeah, you can get the result. But in the end, somebody’s not gonna wanna… They’re not gonna wanna do what you want them to do on their own. I remember a teacher came up to me one time, said that in the 1960s, he was working in an auto factory in California, and his job was to put these types of rivets in some part of the automobile. But he noticed that the machine that he was using to put the rivets in, would strip the rivets out every once in a while, and he got really tired of having to re-work this situation. Not rivets, they were screws, I think it was.
0:10:45.1 AS: Right.
0:10:45.5 DL: So he actually built his own little tool so that it would only go in at the proper depth and every screw was going in perfectly, and he was very proud of it. So proud of it that when his supervisor came by, he showed him, he said, “Look, look what I built, I built this, and you may wanna think about doing this for everybody,” and well, his supervisor just lit into him and told him, “Your job is not to think. Your job is to put these screws in and you go back to doing what you were told to do in the first place.” And I asked him, I said, “Well, so what did you do?” He said, “When the supervisor was around, I used the tool that did a bad job, and every time he would leave, I would get my tool out and do it properly.” So he was still in that environment, intrinsically motivated to do a good job, but because the supervisor wanted that autonomy or control of that situation, and it’s the “not invented here syndrome” that…
0:11:49.1 AS: Yeah.
0:11:49.3 DL: “I didn’t invent it, I didn’t tell you to do that, so therefore, it can’t be a good idea,” kind of a thing.
0:11:56.7 AS: And I’m thinking about… There’s some teachers out there that are… Have a really hard time. “If I give up control, this classroom is gonna go chaos.” They are making themselves really important in that, and let’s say… Let’s put those people aside for just a minute and let’s just take the people that are kind of in the middle, they’re open to that and all that. And I just wanna tell a quick story in my life. I remember, my father never… My father didn’t tell me his personal problems. He talked to my mom about that, and occasionally, I knew a little bit of what was going on. But I remember, when I turned about, I don’t know, 25, and I really had become a much more mature guy, and my dad started telling me some of the things he was dealing with, some of the ways he felt about things, and it’s like the whole thing flipped. I just really saw a different side, a human side.
0:12:49.1 DL: They’re human. [chuckle]
0:12:50.9 AS: Yeah. And I saw a different side of him, but also I’ve wanted to be a different participant in that. I wanted to be a participant and someone that could listen and understand where my dad was coming from. And I think about classroom, then I’m thinking about what you’re talking about, a classroom. So for a teacher who’s kind of open to try some new things, part of what you… Maybe what you’re saying is, flip the script a little bit and talk about why are we here, what are we trying to do? What am I trying to do. What’s my job? What’s…
0:13:17.8 DL: Yeah. When I see intrinsic motivation emerge, it’s there, right? It’s there. All you have to do is manage the situation differently, and you’ll start to see it emerge and come out. So you can take something so simple like the start of a classroom. Well, I could just have all the children come in and talk and goof around and everything else, until I stand up and tell them what to do. That’s a way to control the situation or like I was saying, I could start to give them the knowledge of what to do. So let’s talk about… Let’s do a flowchart. Let’s do a flowchart about what to do when you come in the door. Where do you go? What do you do? How do you get things set up? Well, I’ve now just transferred a level of control to them or a situation like, somebody doesn’t know what to do next.
0:14:24.3 DL: So we talk as a class and maybe we come up with a flowchart that’s what to do. What to do when you don’t know what to do. So we’re now giving them knowledge about that situation and being able to take action. So then if I have a child that says, “Well, I don’t know what to do.” “Oh, have you looked at the flowchart?” Let’s talk about that. Remember we talked about, okay, the first thing you wanna do is do this and then do that and maybe talk to somebody else and see if they know what to do. But there’s a process of what to do when you don’t know what to do. Now, that’s different than me saying, “Well, if you don’t know what to do, come up and ask me.” ‘Cause it’s putting me…
0:15:11.2 AS: And then I’ll tell you.
0:15:12.1 DL: Yeah. It’s putting me in total control of that situation and that’s very motivating for me. But it’s very demotivating for the individual because they can’t take control because they don’t know what to do next.
0:15:24.1 AS: Yeah.
0:15:25.3 DL: So change the situation, watch how behavior changes versus what we’ve been taught to do, especially in schools, is leave the situation alone and then manage the behavior that it’s producing. See?
0:15:40.2 AS: So we’re back to the system
0:15:42.2 DL: Yeah, absolutely. So, couple of other factors, before getting control of the situation. The more you have people self-evaluate their own progress, you’ll start to see intrinsic motivation emerge. So as long as I’m evaluating you, write this paper, hand it in. I’ll grade it. I’ll go over it, I’ll find the mistakes, and then I’ll put a grade on it and I’ll hand it back to you, well, that gives me as a teacher total control of that situation. I reverse that, and I set up processes for you to self-evaluate your own work, so when you think you’re finished with this, here are the steps that you wanna go through, so check to see if it’s this or nowadays, have you run it through Grammarly, online? But I’m putting you in a position where you have autonomy to self-evaluate your own work. And then if you think it’s finished and you’ve finished your self-evaluation, you might wanna share it with somebody else. I’m gonna look at it, see if you can get some feedback from them. See feedback is very motivating, but evaluation is not.
0:17:00.7 DL: I can give you some feedback on the job that you’re doing and support you and how you can do a better job. That’s much different than me saying, “You’re doing a lousy job, Andrew.” Or, “I’m gonna put B on this paper.” No matter how hard you worked, you’re gonna get a B. So the example you gave in the last Podcast about only 10 students are gonna get A’s. Well, that’s an artificial scarcity of top performance. And so I’m pretty certain people looked around the room and they said, “I’m not one of those 10 people, I know that.”
0:17:37.0 AS: I’m outta here.
0:17:38.4 DL: I’m outta here.
0:17:39.5 AS: And that’s not achieving the goal…
0:17:40.9 DL: Right.
0:17:41.5 AS: Or the aim.
0:17:42.3 DL: Or we have other ways that people get control of their situation when they feel out of control. We call it cheating. So when the situation won’t allow me actually to achieve what I’m supposed to achieve, maybe I’m a university class and I have to have this grade, have to have this class to get my degree, but the class is so horrible, I’m not learning anything, there’s no way I’m gonna pass this test, and so I end up sacrificing my integrity and cheating ’cause it’s worth the risk. Because the system is not gonna allow me to learn this material and get to the level I need to get to. So that’s when we start to see the effective behavior emerge. It starts really very early in schools. Kids feel like, “I can’t get this, I can’t understand it, so I’m just gonna have to cheat, copy somebody else’s paper, or steal it or something.” And we wanna manage that behavior, wow, oh, we caught that, we’re gonna… So we come up with sophisticated methods of catching the cheaters. Right?
0:19:00.0 DL: So you see it in the SAT tests and all kinds of things. What? You got to have monitors. It has to be one monitor for every 50 students or because we gotta catch those cheaters. [chuckle] But nobody’s looking at the situation or the system and saying, “What’s causing people to cheat?” Because they’re feeling helpless and hopeless and, “I can’t get this. And so, the only way I can get it is to cheat.” There’s some other ways that we can impart or get people to have more control in situations. So when you think about neuroscience, the human brain taps into mapping and patterns and systems actually. And again, we’re back to Deming’s work. And Deming tapped into that, actually. So when I put learning into maps or patterns or gestault kinds of things, the human brain actually responds to it better.
0:20:00.9 DL: So in a classroom, instead of me just verbally talking about stuff all the time, if I take that same information I want people to know and understand, and I put it into some kind of a map or a pattern or a flowchart, I’ll see a new level of intrinsic motivation or ownership start to emerge, because I’ve just changed the situation and tapped into something. So I’m not just dealing with just the auditory learners, I’m really tapping into… I’m giving control of everybody over to learn. I created a tool to do that, actually, to take curriculum and put in into a map or a pattern and then give that to students at the beginning of a learning experience. And all of a sudden, you see ownership, this is all the stuff that you need to know and learn in this two weeks or whatever the time has to be. That’s much different than me saying, “Well, read this book. Well, what do I need to know in this book? What’s gonna be on the test?” “Well, read it just in case I put something on the test.” That’s a school game that puts the teacher or the system in control, but it makes the learner feel helpless in that environment.
0:21:21.9 AS: You used a word, ownership. How do we think of ownership versus intrinsic motivation? What does that… What does that mean?
0:21:29.0 DL: Ownership, autonomy, control of the situation, those are all of the same kinds of concepts that you’re trying to get people just to have more ownership of their own learning, their own situation. And my job is to manage the whole system, right? So if I’ve got 30 kids in my class, I want all 30 to be well motivated [chuckle] to learn whatever it is that we’re working on and going through. So another level of control is choice. The more choice I give people in a situation, I’ll see their intrinsic motivation emerge. And it can be so simple that you can choose to do this, or you can choose to do that. [chuckle] That’s an element of choice.
0:22:14.4 AS: Mom, mom, you can either walk after breakfast or twice in the afternoon. [chuckle]
0:22:20.7 DL: Yeah. But that’s a level of intrinsic motivation, right? You’re giving her the control of that situation. “Well, no, I’d rather do it in the afternoon.” Okay. Right? That I’m managing differently by giving people choice, or in a classroom, you have the choice to choose what you wanna write about or how you wanna write it or… And now, for some children that can be overwhelming, right?
0:22:48.3 AS: Yeah.
0:22:48.6 DL: So I can say, “Well, you can choose whatever you wanna do, or I’ll choose it for… Or you can have me choose it for you.” Right?
0:23:00.5 AS: Right.
0:23:00.6 DL: If you want me just to give you a topic, I’ll be glad to do that. Maybe it’s you can’t really think about what you wanna do, right?
0:23:05.5 AS: Right. That may take some pressure off of them.
0:23:07.7 DL: But still it’s your choice, right?
0:23:10.3 AS: Yep.
0:23:10.9 DL: So you start to see rebellion go away when you incorporate levels of choice because I can’t really rebel against myself. [chuckle]
0:23:21.6 AS: Right, yep.
0:23:21.9 DL: I chose to do this, but no, I really don’t wanna do this. [laughter] But you chose it, right?
0:23:27.9 AS: And that circles back to the title, which was Who Controls Motivation? Maybe I’ll just summarize some of the things that I took away. We’re talking about five elements of intrinsic motivation and a lot of it has to do with creating the environment so that people wanna learn and they want to get the benefit of that. And the first element is control. And the point is when you give someone… You, if you’re holding onto the control, you’re not really empowering or you’re not really giving autonomy and control. Just give that control to the other people, to the kids, to the other people at the company. They’re gonna know what to do with it. And help them and guide them. How do I… What do I do? Give them autonomy. And also you talked about the idea that give people more knowledge. And I think that that’s part of what I was telling my story about my father, is like the idea he was giving me more knowledge of what’s going on. There’s more there than I knew. And the more knowledge that someone has, the more they can really figure out what to do with that. You also said a good one, which was intrinsic motivation, it’s there. Just change some things and watch it emerge.
0:24:41.1 DL: That’s right.
0:24:42.2 AS: And then you went through a couple of different things that are really helpful for helping people take control, to get that intrinsic motivation. You talked about self-evaluation of your own progress and that helps people. And feedback is motivating, but evaluation is not. So think about constant feedback. “Hey, that was good. Oh, did you see why that happened? Why do you think that happened?” That, and also you said when people lose control, they often cheat to cope. And I liked… One of the things that you said was that the brain taps into maps, patterns, and systems. And I use that a lot when teaching. I need that to see how does this all connect? And then you alluded to the idea of appealing to maybe the left brain and the right brain type of people in the room that maybe some people are seeing things more logically, whereas other people will see things less linearly and that type of stuff. And then final thing that you talked about is choice gives control. Anything you would add to that?
0:25:55.0 DL: Yeah, there’s a couple of other factors quickly. One is just-in-time learning, so when I’m getting the knowledge I need just in time. So I’m working on a project or something, and I need to know a level of skill to complete this project, well, when I discover that I need that knowledge, right, that’s just-in-time learning. So if you need to know this, come to the back of the room and I’ll explain it, but if you don’t need to know this right now, then just keep on working and keep doing what you’re doing ’cause I don’t wanna interrupt you. Well, that’s an element of choice. It’s also a just-in-time learning. “So when I’m ready, I’m gonna go get that,” versus, “I’m gonna teach this now whether you need it or not.” Well, that’s when you get kids sleeping in class, bored out of their minds, because maybe they don’t need that at all. They don’t need that explanation.
0:26:54.7 DL: I already know this, right? So I’m just gonna screw around and pass notes or do something else that’s more fun than sitting and listening to you. And the last thing for control is time. So the more you have an understanding of how to manage time or teach people to manage their own time, the more, yeah, control that they’ll feel like they have over a situation. They’ll understand how to work it through. So I often use the example, when you have a two-year-old, right? And you have an appointment that you have to get to, and so you gotta get the two-year-old in the car and get him buckled in the car seat and you gotta go, right? And so you’re in a hurry, and so you grab them up and they’re yelling and they’re fighting you to get in the car seat ’cause they don’t wanna go, and… Right? And so, “Well, if you get in your car seat, I’m gonna give you a lolly or a sucker or a piece of candy, or… I’m gonna bribe you to do what it is, what I wanna do.
0:27:54.8 DL: Or I’m just bigger, so I’m just gonna force you into that seat and buckle you in, Right?” Well, that is a way to accomplish the task, or you could do something differently. At breakfast, you’re saying, “In about an hour, we’re gonna get ready to go, and we’re gonna go to the doctor’s office, and it’s gonna be really interesting for you to see the doctor’s office, and we’re gonna talk about everything we’re gonna do and everything else. So now we’re gonna get our coats on and we’re gonna walk out, and I’m gonna wait for you to climb up into your car seat, and what do you need to do now? We need to get buckled,” right? That’s all gonna take a lot more time than me grabbing you and forcefully [chuckle] putting you in that car seat and buckling you. You see, but the urgency of the situation was not that two-year-old’s problem. It was yours. Your lack of planning [chuckle] caused the crisis. And if I change any element of that, I see that two-year-old be more intrinsically motivated to do what I want them to do, right?
0:29:05.6 AS: Yeah.
0:29:05.7 DL: ‘Cause we’re doing something together, and that’s the relationship that they’re craving more than anything. So I’ll leave you with that.
0:29:12.4 AS: So just-in-time learning and teaching people how to manage their own time and it gives them control?
0:29:19.0 DL: That’s right.
0:29:19.5 AS: Fantastic. That’s a lot of stuff that we covered in that, and personally, I learned a lot. I did like the just-in-time learning ’cause I feel like that’s my job. As a financial analyst in the stock market, I come across things I don’t really know much about, and I was just looking at, “Well, green energy doesn’t seem to work.” Germany tried to do it, and they weren’t able to replace what they lost in traditional energy. What about nuclear energy? Okay, where does that come from? It comes from uranium. Okay, where is uranium? The country that has 40% of uranium production is Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Republic. And now, all of a sudden, I put together that, wow, Russia and Kazakhstan together all control 50% of the uranium in the world. All of a sudden, you realize that Putin has control of the supply chain for nuclear power. So now, what is this country, Kazakhstan? I remember studying it ’cause I had to, but now I’m interested just-in-time to learn, “Okay, how does this all fit together?” And that to me, I just went through that process for a global investment strategy report, and I was able to tell my clients, “I don’t know a lot about Kazakhstan, but here’s what I’ve learned, and I have a feeling this will become a name of a country that we’re all gonna know in the next 10 years.”
0:30:42.5 DL: Well, you know, Kazakhstan is right next to, “Don’t-Understand,” so.
0:30:50.2 AS: Yes, right? Under… Understand. Yeah, that’s right. [laughter] So David, on behalf of everyone at the Deming Institute, I wanna thank you again for this discussion. And for listeners, remember to go to deming.org to continue your journey. This is your host, Andrew Stotz. And I wanna remind you that listeners can learn more about David at langfordlearning.com, and I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Deming, “People are entitled to joy in work.”