Tag Archives: Daniel H. Pink

What Drives Extension Work — Really?

Yesterday was one of those days  I was reminded of how fortunate I am to be an Extension professional.

I spent the morning interviewing an elderly northwest Alabama Extension volunteer – a Homemaker Club member and officer — who has spent her entire life either being served by Extension programs or dispensing them as a volunteer.

But wait: Is dispensing programs an adequate description of what she has done?  Doesn’t this phrase minimize, if not demean, what has amounted to an awe-inspiring commitment of time and creative energy?

As she related all the years of passion she poured into her volunteer work, I was reminded of the book I’m currently reading: Dan Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.”

Pink summarizes what behavioral science has revealed over the past few decades: that the old Frederick Winslow Taylor-style carrot-and-stick incentives really aren’t that incentivizing.   Science has discovered that we’re driven far more by autonomy, mastery and purpose.  Simply put, people want control over their work, to get better at what they do, and, finally, to be part of something bigger than they are.

A thought occurred to me as I reflected on this dear lady’s experiences and the lessons from this book during the long drive home: So much of Extension work really is about these three things – autonomy, mastery and purpose.

This raises a fascinating point — something I fully intend to explore in subsequent posts: Isn’t our outreach work as much about providing experiences as it is administering programs?

Anyway, take the time to watch this excellent overview of Pink’s book and then, by all means, read the book!

Employing Flip-Thinking in Cooperative Extension Work

Karl Fisch, an algebra teacher at Arapahoe High School near Denver, has gone bass-ackward on his students.  Instead of devoting classroom time to lecturing, which has been the way of doing business for as long as there have been classrooms, Fisch is using this time to offer intensive problem-solving and experimenting with concepts.

What happened to the classroom lectures? Fisch is posting them to youtube instead.  Kids are expected to watch the youtube lectures at home in the evening so they will be fully primed for problem-solving and experimenting the next day.

Speaking as an execrable high-school algebra student, the whole concept of lectures at night and problem solving during the day really appeals to me.  Goodness knows, if I had been afforded the same opportunities as a teenager, perhaps I wouldn’t have been derided by my algebra teacher as “the worst student who ever passed through Russellville High School.”

And that’s precisely the point, says visionary and bestselling author Dan Pink, who recently shared this account along with several other notable examples of what he describes as flip-think.   As Pink observes, ideas such as Fisch’s force people to slap their foreheads in astonishment and ask why more schools aren’t doing things this way.

“That’s the power of flipping,” he says.  “It melts calcified thinking and leads to solutions that are simple to envision and implement.”

In this increasingly competitive global knowledge economy, examples of flip-thinking are occurring all around us, Pink says.

For example, U.S. and British book publishers are employing flip-think, publishing paperback editions and even e-books of new, obscure authors instead of risking costly hardcover editions.

The more I experiment with social media, the more astounded I become with flip-thinking’s potential within Cooperative Extension work.

Consider crop tours. For decades, these tours have traditionally included a series of stops, each comprised of brief presentations by subject-matter experts, followed by a quick traipse into the field for closer crop inspection before moving onto the next tour stop.

Up to now, any video associated with the tour, usually recordings of field presentations, were posted days or weeks after the tour.

Here’s an example of flip-thinking: Why not record the presentations a few days in advance, freeing up more time for crop inspection and troubleshooting as well as more direct interaction between growers and subject-matter experts in the field?

The advantages of such an approach are obvious: Growers would be able to view the youtube presentations for as long and as often as they pleased, even as more time was freed up during the actual tour to allow for closer crop inspection and one-to-one interaction with subject-matter experts.

Much of the Master Gardening training likely could be handled the same way, freeing time for more hands-on instruction.

This is only one example among many of how Cooperative Extension longstanding emphasis on high touch could be enhanced through innovative practices.

The aim here is not to undermine or replace the traditional face-to-face interaction that has underscored traditional Extension outreach but to augment it through innovation, namely through more creative use of technology.

Also bear in mind that innovative thinking doesn’t necessarily have to involve a complete flip.  It simply must work to free up time to make work tasks more effective.

I’ll end this by challenging my fellow Extension professionals with the same homework Pink offers his readers:  Tonight after work, come up with at least one process, practice, method or model that will enhance high-touch effects of your personal outreach efforts.

You may be surprised at what you discover.

Design, Design, Design!

What if I told you to read one book this year for the sake of your — and your employer’s — survival?

I have read one such book.  As a matter of fact, I’ve read it twice, taking care the second time to write notes in the page margins.

As a matter of fact, I would — if I could — require every Cooperative Extension professional in the United States to read this book.  As I see it, the very survival our organizations depends on whether we heed the lessons outlined in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink.

If you are unwilling to read any further, I’ll summarize the basic theme of the book: Design!

To drive home the importance of this theme, I suggest that it be repeated as often as possible, almost like a Vedic mantra: Design! Design! Design!

So what accounts for the centrality of design in this emerging economy?  Pink cites three factors.

Abundance, Asia, Automation

In the past few decades, the global knowledge economy has produced something beyond the wildest dreams of earlier generations of humanity: abundance — a dazzling cornucopia of products encompassing every size, description and function.

But there’s a deeper, more disturbing dimension to this.  In the United States, most of the knowledge jobs — the sort of high-paying, high-tech professions that that inspired earlier generations of Americans to slog through four-year engineering curricula and similar courses of study — are rapidly and inexorably being outsourced to Asia.   As Pink stresses, the reason stems from simple economics:  overseas engineers and other high-tech professionals can be paid less to do the same high-tech work.

He also cites a third factor. Within the last few years, engineers have achieved quantum leaps in processing capacity, which have resulted in a new generation of computers equipped to undertake many highly complex tasks.

Pink cites a small British company, Appligenics, which has created a new application capable of writing hundreds of lines of software in less than a second.  Moreover, the processing power of computers has advanced to such a degree that tasks that once required the assistance of skilled knowledge workers — medical diagnoses or legal assistance, for example — can now be handled on-line with a few clicks of a mouse.

As Pink observes, some 100 million people across the planet go online to access health and medical information via more than 23,000 medical sites.  Needless to say, this is changing the way physicians serve their patients.  Ditto for attorneys.

Pink describes these three forces as “abundance, Asia and automation.”

Right-Brained Thinking

So, what is a professional in the West to do to survive within this radically changed environment? For starters, cultivate the part of the brain that is seldom given the credit it is due: the right side.

Pink contends that as three forces — abundance, Asia, and automation — exert more influences across the planet, the curtain is rising on a new era in human history: the Conceptual Age.

What does this new era mean for U.S. workers?

Mere survival today depends on being able to do something that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that powerful computers can’t do faster, and that satisfies one of the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age.

This will involve incorporating a high-touch, high-concept approach into every product.  Likewise, workers will be judged by how well they are able “to create artistic and emotional beauty, to direct patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention.”

This will require ample amounts of creative ability associated with right-brain thinking — the reason why Pink predicts that the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) will ultimately replace the MBA as the professional credential of this new Conceptual Age.

Back to that word: design.

There is a lesson here for every professional, and especially those in Extension work.

In this Conceptual Age, no one can afford the luxury of winging it — of simply designing a mediocre educational product and assuming that since a certain brand is attached to it that people will use it.

Unless it incorporates Conceptual Age values — unless it’s high concept and high touch — it will be ignored for something else that fits the bill.

Yes, I know, back to that word again.