Knowing the truth behind motivation is not enough

Dan Pink examined the two types of motivation: extrinsic, based on rules and punishments versus intrinsic based on doing what matters to you. Autonomy, Mastery and purpose form the foundation of intrinsic motivators. At a high level, extrinsic motivators only work on mechanical tasks lacking any problem solving while any tasks that require thought are hindered by external rewards. In fact, creativity and innovation are diminished. People become more narrow minded so don’t consider other solutions to problems.

Yet he talks about how business ignores this science focusing on extrinsic motivators. Higher performance comes from doing work that matters.  Dan Ariely talks about how the lavish CEO bonuses actually lead to poorer performance in The Upside of Irrationality because it distracts the mind with focus on the reward versus delivering the results the reward is based on.

That’s not to say that people don’t want to be compensated for their work – it’s that they are motivated by doing work that sparks their passions. Work with a purpose. Makes sense when you need to find solutions requiring creative, non-linear thinking.

Many people are motivated simply by the desire to create. A desire to express themselves. That rewards follow is a bonus but not prerequisite. I don’t take pictures for the money. I do it because it brings I enjoy capturing the life around me. And because I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s like driving a car. I can’t help but ‘see’ pictures each day whether I record them or not. Almost everything is automatically framed and cropped in my mind. Will it pay off someday? Maybe. Maybe not.

In the workplace, teams are motivated by respect. Few leaders (dare I say that) gain high productivity via fear-based management. Quite the opposite. Empowered employees deliver far more value and a much more positive customer experience. Check out Josh Bernoff’s book Empowered for more. Create a strong culture, allow people room to grow and work that’s engaging and you’ll find people motivated to give their best.

But does this translate into self motivation? Are people naturally self-motivated to do work that matters or do they need someone to guide them. It’s back to the map. Any reader of Seth Godin knows there’s no map for the bleeding edge of creativity.

As I mentioned before, not everyone is self-motivated. Many don’t think about possibility because they’ve never had the mentors or people who’ve given them permission to think about possibility. They may not surround themselves with people who encourage initiative. Entrepreneurs are perhaps the best example of those most self-motivated. Many of the most successful stumbled upon their idea by trying to solve the problems they faced. They had an internal burning desire to change the world – and surrounded themselves with people that supported them or simply ignored the naysayers trusting in themselves to succeed. And worked through failure. Or maybe they simply enjoy the thrill of building something new and fighting the good fight. Does that describe you?

Anyone who’s tried their hand at self-employment knows how challenging it is. Where you leave your job because you want to do it on your own, but don’t realize that over 80% of what you end up doing has nothing to do with your original idea. You have to do all the jobs in your business until you can hire them out. That’s what the E-myth talks about (required reading for anyone contemplating hanging their own shingle). Tara Hunt does a great job talking about the ups and downs as CEO of Schwowp.

I can’t speak for everyone, but what ultimately motivates me is a constant desire to do better and leave the world a better place. I enjoy business and the business of communicating. I enjoy learning – can’t learn enough, actually. I’ve always wanted to improve myself and admire people that have created flourishing careers and businesses from nothing but their minds and sheer willpower. Effort doesn’t hurt either. And I’m simply not content with the status quo. But again, that’s just me.

To be self-motivated requires a willingness to take responsibility for your actions. And based on our flourishing legal system, you could argue many people are not willing to do so. There’s also a catalyst that ignites the fire within. Be it a problem, a passion, a curiosity or crisis. Something kicks it off. In #leadershipChat yesterday we talked about crisis in leadership and whether that was required. Many say yes. It gives a reason to lead. The motivation to take action. But @LisaPetrilli also suggested that stagnation in a business is also a reason to lead. And it’s a situation that requires real leadership to regain lost momentum. Different types of motivation are required here.

Self motivation is not black and white. To explore this further I’m going to dive into stories of others who’ve made something happen . . .

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