It's mostly interested in explaining what motivates people, and the essential insight is that carrot-stick motivation strategies don't work. Paying people to do good things can sometimes make them not want to do good things anymore. It can also hurt creativity. According to the majority of studies, extrinsic rewards can limit and even damage creativity.
I think most teachers already know that extrinsic rewards can be bad for intellectual work. Any kind of payment sends the message that the work isn't rewarding enough in itself, that it requires some kind of outside motivator to be worth doing.
The most useful part of the book, in my opinion, is the way that it breaks down intrinsic motivation into three essential components - so-called Motivation 3.0 -
- Autonomy - acting with choice of method and means to achieve desired results. For this to be effective, people need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), technique (how they do it), and team (who they work with).
- Mastery - seeking skill or fluency, as a result of appropriate challenges (not too difficult, not too easy). There are three "laws" of mastery - it is a mindset (a way of thinking about being good at something), it is a "pain" (it takes effort and hard work), and it is an asymptote (it is something that people can work toward but never achieve).
- Purpose - some sense of an end that is important or worth working toward other than money or extrinsic reward.
I think that most teachers already knew a lot of this. I think that some of the thinking and the language around this helped clarify the "why" for me, but I don't think that this stuff is as groundbreaking as it wants to pretend. The challenge, of course, is implementing these things in a consistent, responsible way in the classroom. Giving middle school students the chance to choose who they work with can easily go wrong. But what an incentive, and a powerful tool, if it is done right!
Now, the goal is to get through some of the material I have on inquiry.