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Punished by Rewards

The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
De : Alfie Kohn
Lu par : Alfie Kohn
Durée : 13 h et 9 min
5 out of 5 stars (2 notations)

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Description

The basic strategy we use for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you'll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way we train the family pet.

Drawing on a wealth of psychological research, Alfie Kohn points the way to a more successful strategy based on working with people instead of doing things to them. "Do rewards motivate people?" asks Kohn. "Yes. They motivate people to get rewards." Seasoned with humor and familiar examples, Punished by Rewards presents an argument unsettling to hear but impossible to dismiss.

©1993 Alfie Kohn (P)2017 Tantor

Commentaires

"A clear, convincing demonstration of the shortcomings of pop-behaviorism, written with style, humor, and authority." ( Kirkus)
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  • Michael
  • 19/05/2018

Punished by Rewards

Every now and then a paradigm shifting book comes along my way. It's that time again. I went into this book a bit sceptical, amused by the cover and its premise, and wondering how the author was going to convince me that 'praise' could be detrimental, and other ridiculous ideas that sound like they come from hippy liberals who are still traumatised by never winning a ribbon on school sports day. It's not what you think though. Kohn methodically and scientifically deconstructs behaviourism's punishments and rewards, and shows how they are counter-productive to the goals of those using them, and ultimately demotivating and detrimental to those 'upon' whom they are used. It’s not at all about making all people ‘the same’, or promoting mediocrity – it’s about focusing people on the long term, and on what really matters, and what actually works.

How could rewards be 'bad'? I've always felt the tension, but never known another way. "Kids, clean your room and you'll get a lollipop." It teaches them that cleaning their room is something they wouldn't want to do without a reward, it makes it an obstacle between them and the reward, and it makes them focus on the reward, not the important issue – why you want them to want to have a clean room. Remove "clean room" and insert it with any other task - maths homework, greeting elders, behaving in class, meeting a quota, reading a book, etc., - and switch the reward - A's, praise, raise, stickers, screen time, etc., - and it's the same formula. As he kept saying, "Do this and you'll get that" makes them focus on the 'that', not the 'this'.

The natural response here is, "Well, what's the alternative?" Unfortunately (but logically), the solution isn't a quick fix. It's much more involved and holistic. You don't just replace incentive systems with non-incentive systems, or something like that. You need a paradigm shift from focusing on extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation, which means more discussion, more understanding, more customisation and collaboration, less manipulation, threats and ultimatums. Kohn does give a lot of practical ideas, and many of them don’t require that the whole world change before you implement them – he suggests ways that you can do it ‘less bad’, rather than 100% perfectly, ie., how you can minimise the negative effects of extrinsic incentives while still working within the system. I appreciated that.

On the downside, I thought that Kohn occasionally ignored a few alternatives while trying to universalise an issue, or only took one possible negative interpretation of an action where the reality might be more complex, but these moments were few and I was able to see past them to his research and points and make my own conclusions. It was also difficult (from the audio version) to check his sources and see if he was being selective in the research he used to back his points, but I have enough life experiences of behaviourism to know exactly what he was talking about most of the time. I don’t really need a scientific study to tell me that incentivising my kids for their ‘good’ behaviour teaches them nothing about why they should be ‘good’, other than to get a ‘carrot’. You can’t ‘pay’ them to have a ‘good heart’.

This is a book that’s going to stay with me for a while, and will require some more learning and reflection and adjustment.

As for narration, Kohn was the best choice for narrating this, even though he sounds a bit like Wallace Shawn ("inconceivable!"). He knew exactly how to deliver his message, with the right warmth, harshness, deliberation and humour.

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  • Isaiah St John
  • 23/05/2018

Skeptical at first, I've been won over

I began this book skeptical of Kohn's thesis. I was going to listen with an open mind, but in a world full of people spending 40 hours or more a week chasing a paycheck, I anticipated to be presented with a half-baked theory that stretched thin evidence past limits of sober credulity sprinkled with powerful -- if not quite believable -- anecdotes. Instead, Kohn makes a compelling case, and if anything, the numerous research citations become tiring. If the reader perseveres, Kohn goes on to describe alternative approaches to parenting, teaching, and leadership. This isn't a page-turning beach read, but Kohn has successfully convinced me that some deeply held beliefs are misguided and pointed the path to a better way. And I'm already seeing some small successes in applying these lessons to my everyday life. I'm very glad I purchased this book.

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  • Tyler B
  • 28/12/2019

Communism disguised as parenting/managing advice

This book is not about teaching you how to parent or manage workers. He talks ad nauseam about how bad rewards/merit based systems are. You wait for the big reveal of a new paradigm for teaching children or dealing with employees only to find he offers no alternatives systems or theories, something he readily admits FINALLY at the end of the book. My wife and I were confused why he wasn’t presenting a solution. But then it became obvious that the book is not a parenting/management book. It is a communist attack on capitalism.

Alfie uses communist framing of problems to denounce merit based systems and goes so far as to encourage people to think about dismantling the current societal systems (aka capitalism). He offers no solutions for dealing with children. He gives away his ideological bent by clearly stating communist beliefs and phrases such as: all profits should be distributed to workers as all profits come from labor, needs based pay over performance based pay, framing of conflict as proletariats vs bourgeoisie, and several other clear odes to communist philosophy. It’s a tired and terrible dogma. The greatest irony is that he posits many times that threatening and manipulating people is wrong in any circumstance...yet he argues for a system where the state threatens and manipulates people completely and rather backing those threats with 5 minute time-outs or no video games they are backed with state guns.

The book is interesting for the first 30 minutes as you hear about the shortcomings of rewards and their sometimes counterintuitive effects on motivation and performance. It quickly turns repetitive and if you are familiar with Marxism you begin to see where Kohn is taking the book. If not you will just be wondering when he’ll stop telling you what NOT TO DO and when he will tell you what TO DO.

If you skip to the end you’ll hear about how he encourages young adults to tear down the societal structure that be and he believes only then may we hope to find a better solution to dealing with each other than rewarding each other.

The book is misleading, he should make it clear that he’s not interested in helping us parent/manage better and is instead just arguing for a communist revolution. If he made it clear this was a propaganda piece I wouldn’t be nearly as disappointed in the book, the publisher, and the author.

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  • Alethea B.
  • 15/08/2019

Astonishingly good

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more shocking, thought-provoking, tremendously entertaining, deeply needed book that’s so much more than a book — it’s a force for the good. What a wake-up call for a way (a series of ways) to make the world a better place! Full of truth and compassion, this book left me shimmering with hope and excitement.

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  • David Madden
  • 06/05/2019

Great for Parents

A powerful book that changed my view of parenting and leadership! I appreciate Alfie
Kohn’s courage and ideas.

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  • Ruslan Vasylev
  • 15/03/2019

Good book!

Good book. It felt a little too long and, perhaps, repetitive at times. Nevertheless, I'm glad that what needed to be said about the subject was said.

The overall approach feels right. Liberal where things concern peoples/children's choices, yet conservative in virtues.

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  • Daniel Simion
  • 17/05/2018

It’s a must

If you are a parent, teacher or manager, this audiobook should be your top priority.

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  • Dave
  • 27/02/2020

The dumbest book I have ever read

Alfie should read at least one book on economics. Pick any book. It doesn't have to be entry level at college, it could be a book targeted towards six year olds. It really doesn't matter, because he's started from zero.

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  • Will Szal
  • 12/05/2019

Lowering Performance and Enhancing Hierarchy

Punishments and rewards are so ubiquitous they disappear from critical inquiry:
* Grades in academia
* Awards, such as the Nobel Prize
* Performance-based compensation
* Grants based on deliverables
* Fines and jail time in the criminal justice system
* Repercussions in parenting

In his 1993 book, Punished by Rewards, social scientist Alfie Kohn exhaustively reviews hundreds of scientific studies on behaviorism. Counter to the collective faith in "pop behaviorism," he concludes that
Punishments and rewards definitively decrease performance.

To elaborate a bit on some of the instances in which Kohn investigates this topic:
* Letting people set their own rewards doesn't change their maleffect
* Children raised with rewards have lower self-esteem and have less intrinsic motivation
* Praise is no better
* Performance-based rewards result in worse performance than volume-based rewards
* The only instance where rewards don't have a negative effect on performance is when they are eternal and for menial task devoid of creativity or fulfillment (in such instances, we may be better off discontinuing such working conditions to begin with)

To postulate a theory on the effect of rewards:

In the long run, rewards actually deter the behaviors they seek to incentivize.

Rewards compromise personal agency and contribute to feelings of being manipulated.

So why do they dominate our societal infrastructure? Why do families and organizations continue to turn a blind eye to the devastating evidence that punishments and rewards are worse than doing nothing?

Radical behaviorism has returned to infamy, heralded by Shoshana Zuboff's recent book on surveillance capitalism.

You may have been hearing lately about B. F. Skinner, the founder of this school of thought. Skinner believed in a machine-mentality of humans. Given our plastic psychologies, humans can respond to rewards and be turned into machines, but this is not an ethical course of action.

As Zuboff elucidates, Silicon Valley has become the poster child of pop behaviorism. Many founders have become disenchanted with the human-as-machine analogy.

If rewards don't enhance performance, how are they useful?

Rewards establish and reinforce hierarchies of power and control.

They elevate the rewarder and demote the rewarded.

A consideration for why this would be desirable is beyond the scope of this post.

From its inception, the cryptocurrency space has been pervaded by a behaviorist tone.
Section six in Nakamoto's whitepaper is entitled "Incentive," (which has a distinctly different implications than a word such as compensation).

The term "reward" appears a dozen times in the Ethereum whitepaper.

As I have explored before, the mainstream cryptocurrency community has a strong right-wing streak.

So it might come as no surprise to many that token designers might aspire to engineer motivation in the participants of their economies.

Given that the cryptocurrency space is still in its infancy and very much in an experimental phase not yet backed by definitive theory, what is at risk if we do not critically investigate our behaviorist bent?

Cryptocurrency's dependency on a reward-mentality risks perpetuating a machine paradigm that extinguishes the possibility for creative solutions and emergent outcomes.

Given the many existential threats currently faced by humanity, these are risk that we cannot afford. Conversely, what opportunity is there for the creation of new economies grounded in intrinsic motivation?

At my startup, Regen Network, we come from a living-systems paradigm that seeks to develop the will and ableness of stakeholders in our network towards an aim of planetary regeneration. Given that we operate in the spheres of both regenerative agriculture and cryptocurrency, how can we leverage their strengths while reconciling their sometimes-divergent ideologies?
* How do we create an economy where network participants are motivated by intrinsic will as opposed to extrinsic reward?
* In a global economy pervaded by scarcity and insufficiency, how do we shift the economics of agriculture to compensate regenerative behavior, capitalizing regenerative agriculture and funding the right livelihood of land stewards?
* How do we create a technology platform that enlivens human relationship with land (as opposed to further removing humans from a felt-sense of living systems)?

These are some of the questions we're currently grappling with. We hope that others will join us in discernment and architecting of a regenerative world.

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  • Nico Salas
  • 02/04/2019

Excellent information, vital message, slow read

I loved the message of this book and the logical arguments laid out by the author. However, it was not the easiest to get through. I almost completely stopped listening 2 or 3 times throughout the book because it felt so dry, even though I knew how revolutionary the message was. I recommend every read this, especially if you’re a worker, parent, employer, or teacher, but be prepared for a slow read at times.

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