David Langford Presentation on Motivation and System Improvement

By John Hunter, founder of CuriousCat.com.

David Langford’s presentation at our 2015 annual conference was titled: Education – Implementation Intentions and Automatization.

YouTube video

David included a clip from one of my favorite shows, Utopia (called Dreamland in USA) with a vivid example of a performance appraisal experience.

David also discusses the problems created by using extrinsic motivation to drive improved measures. As David illustrates this tactic over and over results in people distorting the data and distorting the system under pressure to avoid punishment and get rewards.

Those with knowledge of how human systems work can predict the likely consequences of creating poor management systems. Yet when the natural result occur, each time people blame individuals responding predictably to the forces created by the management system.

Those with management authority act without knowledge and create systems that will likely result in bad behavior by individuals. But instead of learning, we blame individuals rather than blaming the poor management practices that predictably led to the poor outcome. Those that learn from W. Edwards Deming can avoid falling into these traps created by poor management practices.

David has discussed the problem of attributing fault to the person without considering the system in previous presentation at our annual conference.

People keep using extrinsic motivators because they work. People ask, well what is so bad about using them if they work? You have to take a look at who they work for.

As Gipsie Ranney explained the trouble with incentives is that “they work” but in doing so cause great unintended damage:

There may be cases in which incentives work only as intended, but I suspect they are relatively rare. The trouble is that we are usually dealing with complex systems (people and organizations) that may behave not at all like our myths would predict. The best policy may be to avoid incentives altogether and focus instead on creating systems in which intrinsic motivation, cooperation, ethical behavior, trust, creativity, and joy in work can flourish.

We achieve the goal but not our aim – as Mike Tveite shared at a past conference. Extrinsic motivation can focus people on posting specific numbers but in doing so they may well do great damage to the complex system that is their organization.

David also discussed a weakness in how schools have worked, when we set rigid timetables and the quality is variable (whatever can fit into the allotted time). He proposes instead:

So if we make the time flexible, but not infinite, but the quality of what you do rigid we get something that more akin to the 21st century.

I like David’s discussion of how a shift in how you see the education system can create a powerful improvement in the education kids get. Instead of learning being driven, and limited, by the deadlines, change to be focused on the quality of learning. Instead of “do whatever quality work you can as long as you turn it in on Friday” – achieve this level of quality when you can. If it takes longer for a student to grasp certain ideas, fine. This is the structure supported when using capacity matrix to track learning.

It also shows that we can aim to provide everyone a great education by changing the system. Make that the focus of the system. The focus should not be on creating a hierarchy of who can achieve the highest grades within a rigid system and blame those who don’t achieve the highest grades for doing poorly. The system in the school needs to change so that all students can do well.

And if you listen to the presentations and podcasts by David Langford, those at Leander ISD and elsewhere that we have included in past blog posts you will see this isn’t some unrealistic vision it is achievable for those willing to thinking differently (see our posts focused on Education).

Related: Change the Situation, Get a Different Result (David’s presentation on our 2015 Deming in Education conference)Inquiring Minds: Improving Elementary Science by Linda LippeBe Careful What You Measure

For more information about David’s current work, with Ingenium Schools, please visit ingeniumfoundation.org

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