Emotions, Education and Engagement: Misunderstanding Motivation

July 11, 2014 Affective LeadershipEmotional IntelligencePeer Powered PerformancePositive Deviance

Feeling beings
  1. Should you send your children to the best schools possible?

  2. Are your new members suffering from “Relative Deprivation?”

  3. Is Self-Awareness part of your core curriculum?

I tend to be a nonconformist by nature which may be evident from my unconventional Red High Tops and cartoon style “Bee the Difference” illustrations.  Before I change my opinions I like to see facts and multiple sources to support new awareness.  The insights to the questions above come from Malcolm Gladwell in David and Goliath, Sal Khan of the Khan Academy and today iSEL from 6seconds.org.  Each establishes the critical correlation between our emotional hardwiring and the ability for us to thrive in our learning environment. 

Gladwell uses the term “Relative Deprivation” to describe how we evaluate our own abilities in relationship to a very close group of peers.  The Wikipedia definition includes the reference to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realize that they have less of what they believe themselves to be entitled than those around them.”

iSEL or Social Emotional Learning is defined as the integration of  the cognitive educational curriculum with self-awareness, self-management and self-direction transforming the academic journey into a very deep experience, where both kids and educators would enrich each other.

Khan AcademyThis is almost exactly how Sal Khan described his second grade AP class where he was taken out of the regular classroom and for one hour each day and given the opportunity to direct his own education.  He went on to say that this one hour was so enjoyable that he looked forward to that time more than spending the night at a friend’s house. 

Each of these describe the opportunity to enter the synergistic field between how we think and feel.  There is an ideal balance described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as the state of flow.  Strengths Finders fans (this is mine) often only recognize they have been enjoying that balance when they look at the clock and wonder where the time has gone.

Now for the hard part.  It is easy to intellectualize these ideas and we have all experienced the feeling but how do we create it in our culture?

 If you are a nonprofit, what do you do, (beyond the obligatory newcomers welcome reception or first timer ribbon) to help each new member “feel” like they fit? 

My wife is unbelievably good at this because she never forgets anything.  At the start of one small conference of just 500 attendees she noticed a new member approaching the registration desk and she literally yelled across the room Jeffrey S…… is in the house!  He felt special from the moment he walked in the door.

 But what if your conference is not for another 8 months?  How do they contribute, join conversations, be part of the “in crowd”?

On the other side of the spectrum how do you help members or volunteers not make the kind of mistake that makes them feel unwelcome or unappreciated? 

First understand the symptoms:

  1. Disaffection will almost never be articulated. 

  2. It won’t be evident in some form of sullen withdrawal or disappointed disposition. 

  3. Most will just feign felicity, project participation and behave buoyantly. 

  4. We are incredibly adept at mindless mimicry.  It is so much easier fit in fraudulently than stand out authentically.

  5. Understand that anger is just and expression of fear

Two Solutions:

1-Offer a mentorship or pairing program.

Steve Jobs was a master at Social Physics.  He put engineers next to artists, coffee shops and watering holes replaced board room.  In Switzerland after failing at everything from education to bribery to reduce power consumption they finally bought into the buddy system.  This simple “Peer Powered Process” saved 17% right off the bat.

 2-Establish clearly defined, easily understood and relentlessly repeated guidelines.  Remember people don’t read what you write, hear what you say or care about what you care about.  People are self-absorbed, self-centered and if they feel threatened self-righteous.  We are about to enter the 5th season with one client and every year it is the same battle.  Angry people because there are no established rules.    If you read all the way back up to the definition of “Relative Deprivation” it is based not on objective realities but subjective beliefs.  The fact that there may be absolutely no supporting evidence as to their discontent is of no consequence.  Relative Deprivation is a feeling.  Our feeling brains evolved millions of years before the thin blanket of cognitive abilities ever appeared.  Most of the space between our ears is not devoted to unbiased facts but imaginative stories.   

Being aware of these stories is the key to both reducing stress and increasing success.  Applying the lessons from Malcolm Gladwell’s collegiate comparison to Sal Khan’s second grade AP class and Six Seconds Social Emotional Learning we can create organizations of inclusion to displace the disconnects derived by our delusions.


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