Sunday, April 04, 2010

NurtureShock (Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman)

NutureShock: New Thinking About Children is a book I've been wanting to read for some time, ever since I first read Bronson & Merryman's article in New York magazine about the effects of praise on children. I was already a big fan of Bronson's writing (see here, here, and here) and knew that he gives his subjects thoughtful attention, and here with Ashley Merryman, that same care is given to the discussion of recent scientific data on child development. (And I think that separates this book from most of the so-called parenting books out there. Well that, and all the scientific data to back up the claims!) Every single chapter in this book made me rethink what I knew (or thought I knew) about children. For example,

  • Praising a child for their intelligence makes a child less likely to try new things (it feeds a fear of failure), whereas praising a child for their effort creates the opposite effect. 
  • Children who watch a lot of educational programming (e.g., PBS & Nickelodeon) show more relational violence than their peers. 
  • There is a preschool/kindergarten program that can teach children self-control and self-focus, and this program is so sucessful in raising test scores that the at-risk kids it is servicing are no longer at risk before the program is over (which is costing the program grant money).
There's even more. I can't recommend this book enough. It's an intelligent synthesis of the recent data for the general public. One that treats the readers as smart and well-informed. Please go read this. Or I will be that annoying friend who always starts conversations with, "Did you know . . . ?"

Drive (Daniel Pink)

I heard about Daniel Pink's latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, through the mental_floss blog (which is always an excellent source of all sorts of unnecessary but intriguing information). It's behavior economics applied to business and management, with the underlying theme of intrinsic motivation. And trust me, it's way more interesting that that last sentence makes it sound.

The behavior economics' studies and data interested me the most because I spend about one-third of every year entrenched in all things economics at work. Plus those kinds of studies are interesting in general: The data show that tasks done in the category "playing" are more fun and interesting long term than the same tasks done in the category "work." (This is one reason given for a child's allowance not being tied to helping around the home. Once the reward is tied to the task, it now becomes "work" that the child becomes unmotivated to do.) Simply put, rewards are not a motivating factor. In fact, they can cause the opposite effect: Children who were told they would win a prize for drawing were motivated to draw at first, but then they lost interest in drawing in subsequent classes. (Children in the control group did not lose interest in drawing and drew significantly more on their own.)

Pink shows how they new generation of business management can best apply these findings. He cites Best Buys' corporate headquarters adoption of a results-based operation (e.g.,  letting employees set their own hours) and virtual call centers staffed with remote workers working out of their homes (increasing customer service satisfaction and decreasing high turnover), among others. It gets a little what-color-is-your-parachute at the end, with questions/strategies for business managers, but I still think it's worth a read.