The Meaning of Motivation
"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing—that's why we we recommend it daily."
With the Chicago Motivation Show approaching (Oct. 12 to 14), I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be motivated and how motivation works.
It started with a conversation I recently had with a friend about grades—and the difference between our GPAs in high school and in college. When I was in high school, I needed to earn at least a B in every class, or I would be grounded until the next one came. Needless to say, I got at least a B in every class on my report card. The stick approach (punishment for not meeting expectations) was effective in getting me to perform, at least minimally. My friend, on the other hand, got paid for every B and A he received, and he got paid a little bit more for his As. On the other hand, Cs would lose dollars. He ended up with a higher GPA than I did. It's certainly not a scientific study, but it does illustrate the higher power of a carrot, doesn't it?
When I got to college, I had neither carrots nor sticks to keep me motivated to achieve. But, it didn't matter. In college, I wanted to achieve highly. I was interested in the material. I was there on my own terms. And I was intrinsically motivated, and needed nothing from the outside to keep me performing above and beyond even my own expectations. My friend reported a similar experience.
There's a big difference between motivation that comes from within—because you simply want things to be different, want to perform at a certain level, want to succeed—and motivation that comes from outside in the form of a carrot (or a stick)—because someone else wants things to be different, wants you to perform at a certain level, and wants to succeed.
You can see this in the working world all the time. I have worked in jobs with co-workers who reflected the bare minimum of motivation. They were motivated to keep their jobs, and did as little as possible while still collecting a paycheck. (Admittedly, I've also had co-workers who didn't even do that much—they just coasted along, collecting a paycheck for as long as they could get away with sleeping behind their desks.)
I've also worked in jobs where nearly everyone was self-motivated to make something happen.
Launching a new publication, the entire team was highly motivated to see the thing to fruition and success. There was nothing coming from the outside—no promise or expectation of a reward for getting it done right. There was simply the desire to create something successful from the ground up. And it worked.
These days, I find I am still lucky enough to be motivated on my own—most of the time. But every once in a while, a big project comes up that takes a little extra kick in the pants to get done. And I've learned enough about the power of rewards to know how to get myself through the tricky bits on these projects. For me, a teensy-tiny reward does the trick. Write the next section of the story, and you can go out for a walk. Finish this interview, and you've bought yourself a trip to the coffee shop for a cappuccino.
So, here's the thing. Obviously, you want the people working for you, selling for you, partnering with you and buying from you to be motivated without any extra help. That's the ideal. But even the most motivated among them will not always be motivated. Everyone needs a little extra oomph sometimes.
And not everyone is capable of motivating themselves. And, especially for companies that want their employees to adopt a new behavior, their sales people to reach a higher level, their partners to change something about the way they do business, we all know that a little outside motivation does the trick to get the job done.
That's essentially the whole reason behind this business we're in—this business of motivating people to change their behavior in some way. In some cases, we're lucky enough to be working with someone who also wants to change, and so the motivation created by an incentive offers just a little extra encouragement. Other times, we're working with someone who has adopted a new behavior on their own without any nudging—such as a customer coming back again and again—and you want to give a reward to recognize that behavior. And, in some cases, we're working with someone who would really much prefer to adhere to the status quo, thank you very much. In these cases, an incentive to motivate them to change becomes even more effective.
Whatever the case may be, you, too, understand the power of a little extra motivation, and the need to keep it coming, day in and day out.