love learning
By Jennie Rose

In his new book To Sell is Human, author Daniel Pink reports that education is one of the fastest growing job categories in the country. And with this growth comes the opportunity to change the way educators envision their roles and their classrooms. Guided by findings in educational research and neuroscience, the emphasis on cognitive skills like computation and memorization is evolving to include less tangible, non-cognitive skills, like collaboration and improvisation.

Jobs in education, Pink said in a recent interview, are all about moving other people, changing their behavior, like getting kids to pay attention in class; getting teens to understand they need to look at their future and to therefore study harder. At the center of all this persuasion is selling: educators are sellers of ideas.

Whether a teacher is presenting to her board or pitching a crowd of 12-year-olds on why Shakespeare was a genius, it’s all the art of persuasion. Though his new book has only been out a couple of weeks, Pink said he’s already received many messages from teachers who agree that, “Yes, I sell. I sell students on poetry, on calculus, on biology.”

In fact, the business world has a lot to learn from educators: what motivates people, how to inspire people to perform well. But educators can also take a lesson from the commercial world: namely, teaching the complicated skill of finding problems. In a recent study, Pink said school superintendents rated problemsolving as the top capability they wanted to instill. Corporate executives, however, rated problem-solving as seventh on their list of attributes in employees, but rated problem identification as the single most important skill. That is, the ability to suss out issues and challenges that aren’t necessarily obvious. And this is where students could benefit from educators — learning the process of identifying a problem.

“The premium has moved from problem solving to problem finding as a skill,” Pink said. “Right now, especially in the commercial world, if I know exactly what my problem is, I can find the solution to my own problem. I don’t need someone to help me. Where I need help is when I don’t know what my problem is or when I’m wrong about what my problem is. Problem solving is an analytical, deductive kind of skill. The phrase ‘problem finding’ comes out of research on artists. It’s more of a conceptual kind of skill.”

So how do educators help kids become problem-finders when they don’t know what the problem is or where the next one might be coming from? “A lot of people hate this word but I think we have to take it seriously, which is relevance,” Pink said. “There’s something to be said for connecting particular lessons to something in the real world.”

For instance, application of math principles, which has real relevance in the real world. “Even with my own kids, to some extent I see math has become an abstract code designed to get a right answer rather than seeing that math explains why this building is standing up, or why the traffic is going slow right now, or why the 49ers are kicking a field goal rather than going for first down.”


One of the big topics Pink tackles in his current book is the idea of moving from transactions to transcendence — to making something personal. That’s the best way to “sell” students on what they’re learning, Pink maintains. This has been a recurring theme in education: connecting what’s taught in classrooms to students’ personal lives. But, as evidenced by current school dynamics, that’s not the way the tide is moving.

“Most of our education is heavily, heavily, heavily standardized,” Pink said. “So, 11-year-olds are all together in one room. No 10-year-olds, and certainly no 13-year-olds. And [assuming that] all of those 11-year-olds are the same, we’re going to put them all together in a 35-kid classroom. Every educator knows that doesn’t work well. Every educator knows about differentiated instruction. The idea that you treat everybody the same way is foolish, and yet the headwinds in education are very much toward routines, right answer, standardization.”

Why is it moving this way? One of the reasons, Pink said, is the “appalling” absence of leadership on this issue. “One of the things that I see as an outsider is that so much of education policy seems designed for the convenience of adults rather than the education of children,” he said. “Start time is a perfect example. Why do we do that? It’s more convenient for the teachers. Why do we have standardized testing? Because it’s unbelievably cheap. If you want to give real evaluations to kids, they have to be personalized, tailored to the kids, at the unit of one. Standardized testing: totally easy, totally cheap, and scales. Convenient for politicians and taxpayers.”

With big changes coming in the form of Common Core State Standards, some fear the idea of standardized “one-size-fits-all” will become even more deeply embedded in education policy. While mastering a core set of literacies makes sense if it can turn students into effective citizens by becoming numerate and literate, Pink said the manner in which Common Core is implemented will determine its value. If Common Core is the only curriculum presented to students, then it runs into

[RELATED: How to Connect School World to the Real World]

the danger of becoming “all about cramming facts.” Knowing for a test that the 5th Amendment is about self-incrimination does not necessarily result in good citizenship.

The same principle applies to the big trend in games and learning, which sometimes results simply in rewards for rote knowledge and memorization. Games have the potential to make math more relevant or engaging, Pink said, but if they lead to standardized thinking about getting to the one right answer, that can be problematic. It’s the carrot and stick thinking vestigial of a bygone era. If the only aim of a game is for points and badges, the game has little benefit for the player. For a game to be compelling and a good source of learning, it should be capable of providing rapid, robust, regular, and meaningful feedback. Social gaming, such as Minecraft, is one instantiation of this kind of salient feedback, Pink said.

The standardized model of education is in dire need of an upgrade, producing students with skills that won’t serve them well outside the boundaries of school. Students who are driven by external rewards (grades, trophies), will be fare worse than those who are self-directed, motivated by freedom, challenge, and purpose, Pink wrote in his earlier book Drive.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “We have a lot of learned behavior of compliance, and hunger for external rewards and no real engagement. We have this belief that people perform better if we hit them with this endless arsenal of carrots and sticks: If-then motivators. To get to that engagement, people have to unlearn these deeply rooted habits. I defy you to find a two year old who is not engaged. That’s how we are out of the box.”


As a student, Pink said he did what everyone else did — he wrote a paper for a class, wrote it neatly, on time, and for a grade. But when he started writing for the school newspaper, things shifted in his mind. He realized it would reach his peers, and suddenly he was motivated to improve his writing. The same goes for any student, he said. “Those clues are right in front of us,” says Pink.

That’s what Big Pictures Schools, a network of schools across the country, on which Pink serves as board member, are attempting to do. New students at these schools are asked questions about  their interests. They could be interested in martial arts, ballet, baseball. Then teachers take the information, and build a curriculum around those particular interests.

[RELATED: How Teachers Can Prepare Students for a Connected World]

Another way of personalizing learning, among many others, are DIY report cards. Even a fifth-grader has the wherewithal to say, “This is what I want to learn; this is what I want to accomplish; this is what I want to get better at.” Then he can look for ways to get feedback on his performance, so he can see that he’s making progress and see that he’s getting better at something.

“An educator in upstate New York did these DIY report cards, and they changed the way he taught,” Pink said. “When students assessed themselves, they held themselves to a higher standard. This changed the way he looked at the kids.”


Dan Pink: How Teachers Can Sell Love of Learning to Students 22 November,2013MindShift

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  • Melissa B

    Great post, but I don’t really agree with the idea that standardized education is “totally cheap”. In a nontraditional school, you don’t need to purchase 6 textbooks per child or standardized test packages. Our per pupil cost is actually much lower than public schools.

  • All I did was nod my head affirmatively as I read this article. Great post!

  • D.A.G.

    School start times are most often controlled at a district level with teachers having little or no input. The idea that start time is for teacher convenience is a misconception.

    • Richard Detwiler

      Agreed. I’ve been a high school teacher for 10 years, and no one has ever asked me about what I thought would be good start or end times to the school day… or about many other things relevant to the learning progress of our students, nor do I see any signs anywhere that there is much interest in what teachers think about education, teaching, learning, or anything else.

    • But school start times have little to do with optimal learning times for students. We start at 7:30am because of the traffic in our city (Bangkok). Hardly an optimal time for the most students AND most teachers. Teenagers tend to be more engaged from 10am to 10pm. Somehow we need to adapt to that reality.

  • Val S

    Have you heard of Montessori education? Developed 100 years ago and does all that you suggest.

  • Hap

    Where is the data to back up these claims? Who are these self-motivated fifth graders? What about other grades and students from more challenging situations.? Dan Pink was motivated by his job at his school paper, so that will work for all high school students? Teachers are in favor of established school start times and standardized testing? What planet do you live on? I have students in my 10th grade class who range developmentally from 1st to twelfth grade. I work hard to motivate them to learn the state issued curriculum, which is basically cellular biology. Almost completely abstract concepts. If I had any say I would teach them human biology and I would throw the de-motivating standardized test in the trash, but no one wants my opinion.

    • There are plenty of self-motivated 5th graders. In fact, that’s the natural state of most children before school kills their intrinsic motivation and creativity. Look up self-directed learning. Sudbury Valley School, North Star in Hadley, Massachusetts. Any Big Picture Learning School. Sugata Mitra’s S.O.L.E.’s. Peter Gray’s blog on Psychology Today has links to dozens of alternative schools that are applying what the past 40+ years of research into human motivation has conclusively determined: extrinsic motivation kills intrinsic motivation. These kinds of learning environments are everywhere — except in traditional, compulsory, coercive education systems. MAP the Pursuit!

  • zhorik

    So American …. In the rest of the world, the term Learning was and never was meant to be related to Material success. What a perversion!

    • majed Adwan

      You taught me and do not give me catch fish
      I am a teacher in Saudi Arabia, I think I am the oldest material is important for applicants, namely: thinking to innovate in solving the problems faced in his life.
      May differ from the problems faced by the learner from one society to another, but they need one skill: the skill of problem solving.
      In conclusion, the article useful thank them

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  • Doug Breitbart

    You might want to check out the work David Preston is doing in California. He refers to what Pink defines as needed as Open Source Learning. It represents a completely new paradigm that shifts the teacher into the role of guide and mentor, the students into the driving seat of their own learning experience, and the educational model from push to pull. The results of 18 months of beta are absolutely breathtaking.

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  • Linda Dawson, SIATech Inc.

    Another great work and food for thought as we tackle the ever increasing battle over meaningful accountability and impact on student learning.Bravo, Daniel…Keep em coming!

  • Journalism is the 21st century English. We shouldn’t be cutting or eliminating student newspapers and yearbooks and broadcasts, but making them robust. These programs not only teach a variety of skills, but collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity; and then toss in civic and media literacy. Almost perfect.

  • I agree thoroughly! Here’s a similar piece I wrote in the same vein early last year. (Why master teachers are also master marketers.)

  • Mike Horton

    Great post. Most of Daniel Pink’s writing applies as well to schools as it does to business. I’ve blogged about how his book, “Drive” applies to principals attempting to motivate teachers. That book set me off on a reading frenzy of books about motivation and lead me to start this blog. Check it out at I’d love to hear your comments about it.

  • Andreas Kuswara

    probably the first step is that the teacher also love teaching and love what they teach. there were times when i had to teach subjects that i don’t really passionate about simply because i had to. how many more teachers were placed in such situation for whatever reason(s).

  • e wherewithal to say, “This is what I want to learn; this is what I want to accomplish; this is what I want to get better at.” Then he can loo

  • Thanks for this. It is spot on.
    You might find this research based solution interesting:
    Supporting/validating information is here:

  • Jennifer Geiger

    I’m a teacher and I’d like to point out that starting school at 7:15 AM is NOT for my convenience, at all. Most of us know the research about adolescents probably benefitting from later start times, but when proposed to the public, then we get opposition from parents who need the adolescents home to babysit younger siblings after school, therefore the adolescents must begin and end earlier than young siblings; or opposition from parents, coaches and advisors about the extracurricular activity lasting too late into the evening. So, please be fair. The clock is set at 7:15 in my district for the convenience of that which happens AFTER school. Wrap your brain around THAT set of priorities!

  • Robin at AAST STEM School

    I totally agree!

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  • Tuinese Torgah

    Very insightful article; Students should be churned out not only as problem -solvers but also problem-finders.Unfortunately most students are not cut for finding problems let alone solving them; this is where the teacher’s task is in the 21st century. Good to bring this to attention of educators.

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  • Cynthia

    Thank you, Dr. Pink.

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  • Nickie Fanning

    I agree that educators can and should sell the love of learning. Students need to be show learning can be enjoyable. They already know this because because now if they want to know something they just look it up and the internet, but they don’t realize that what they are doing is learning. If we could take that approach to teaching, I think students would get a lot more out of the content being taught. In order to sell the love of learning, content should interesting, real,and relevant.

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  • Darron Hilaire Jr

    I never read anything so amazing. This is the greatest piece I have ever read on shifting to a more transcendent, modern style of education vs. the standardized style of modern education. I love DAN PINK! Thank you for sharing your brilliance with the world.

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  • DG

    Highly idealistic. I wish it could be all about tailoring an education to each individual. However, to do this effectively in a realistic world = homeschool your child! (and a lot are choosing to do just this as opposed to the standardized-driven factory)

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