The Lotto, Contest, and Being Protected by Suge Night!


Yesterday, after a delay of nearly three months, an anonymous South Carolinian claimed the $1.5 billion jackpot from the Mega Millions lottery held in October 2018. 

The winner, who has elected to remain anonymous, chose the one-time payment cash option, making the prize worth nearly $878,000,000. It is the largest jackpot payout to a single winner in U. S. history. While we don’t know “who” received the three quarters of a billion dollars, we do know “how” they won it. It turns out that while in line to buy the ticket, the winner allowed another customer to step in front to buy their ticket, leaving the benefactor of the kindness wondering what could have been.

Invariably you hear from lottery winners, "I’m not going to change, I will still be the same person I have always been.” Most people scoff at this and opine about what they would do with the money if they won. (SPOILER ALERT, mine involves having the President’s Own at my beck and call.) And, while we may never know if the winners honor their words, the sentiment does have some substantial science & psychology behind it.

In the book DRIVE, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink does a deep dive into the way our minds think and how our bodies work. The New York Times bestseller gives readers a paradigm shattering new way to think about motivation.

"Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake,” says Pink. In this persuasive new book he asserts that "the secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world."

Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

As we approach contest season it’s interesting to think about how we as teachers, and our students, are motivated. If you agree with Pink, and I do, techniques such as playing tests, practice records, and chair placement, while effective, actually inhibit the overall growth of the student and the ensemble. This does not necessarily mean we should approach everything as if we were a hemp wearing utopian vegan commune in the woods, but that we humans are pre-programmed to want to be challenged and that extrinsic motivators can serve to inhibit that innate desire.

Our students are programmed to think:

  • If I study harder I will get an A.

  • If I work harder I will get a leadership position.

  • If I practice more, I will be first chair.

But is that the way we want them to think?

Do you want a student who will only learn for personal gain?Do you want a leader who works only when rewarded?Do you want a musician who only practices to beat their peers?Do you want an ensemble who celebrates the rating they received more than the music they made?Do you want to be the teacher who is remembered for their ratings more than their impact?

Of course not!

Studies show that the our minds are willing and wanting to work. And when we stray from that premise of “why” people work, we end up impeding excellence and not creating it.

After all, you don’t put in all those hours for a carrot of a paycheck do you? You don’t spend your nights and weekends at rehearsal because you fear being fired, do you? Likely not, as YOU are a model of intrinsic motivation who doesn’t just do things right, you do them for the right reasons.

So ask yourself, “What would I do after I won the lottery?” I have a sneaky suspicion that many of you would spend a portion of your winnings on your program and continue to serve music education in some way. 

Something to think about. 

Have a great week and stay warm!

p.s. If I won that much money, I would still write this e-zine, albeit from a large mansion on a remote island. You might think me guarded & distant, and you would be right. Just so you know, I won't just be "guarded" emotionally, I will physically be guarded by Suge Knight at all times. In addition, I will hire John Cena to protect ME from Suge Knight. So yeah, SOME things will change.