Monday, January 21, 2013

On Motivation- A Return to Basics


"Step away from your schedule," suggested a colleague. "Sit quietly with me a few minutes to watchThe Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, a Dan Pink RSA talk." This colleague respects my time, so I took her advice.

Dan Pink departs from conventional reward and punishment motivational models. He offers something beautifully and artfully put, and it makes a lot of sense. I enjoyed him so much that I felt it worth passing along to you here at The Ronin Post. I believe you'll like it. Beyond that, it could inform your own practices aimed at effectiveness and influence. At the end of this article I'll invite you to pass it along to others.

But before you view it, here are some thoughts I'd like to share.

As I watched this piece I found myself recalling days spent with a long-ago mentor who often addressed MOTIVATION. He offered that once we subtract survival, sex and fear from the mix of motivators there basically exists three, especially when viewed from within a professional context: Money, Recognition and Cause.
  1. Money - a tangible, medium, a touchable reward (stone, clam, dollars yen, RMB, pesos, etc.) that is exchanged for products and services;
  2. Recognition - an acknowledgement of individual or group effort that carries emotional weight and says, "You and what you have done matters, you and it have been noticed and valued";
  3. Cause - an ideal or "ism" that touches one's sensibilities of something greater - duty, vision or honor, often seen in connection to others and/or adding a deep meaning to life, and often opening to something we call spiritual or moral.

These motivators are impersonal. They carry no inherent significance. All significance is assigned by the individuals involved in the process - i.e. either those who motivate or those being motivated. While time, history, story, craftiness, etc., can establish scenarios that imply inherent significance, if you take the time to peal the stories aside you will find that significance comes down to individual decision making. Moreover, each of these motivators can be used in constructive or destructive ways depending on the individual or groups taking action and their desired outcomes. They achieve a wide array of results. Some we label "good". Others we shake our heads and frown at ... or worse.

Money buys stuff.   This stuff can make you healthy or it can destroy health and kill you. It can encourage life-giving results. "Let's till this ground and grow some good food for the people who live in this town." - OR it can lead to behavior considered abhorrent. "Let's train our players by rewarding them each time they actually hurt someone on the opposing team". I'm not referencing the New Orleans Saints. Take a look.

But money yields to very short-termed rewards. It comes; it goes; i.e. it's rather cerebral, intellectual and not very sustainable.

Recognition can also be displayed in constructive and destructive ways. A young barista feels the compliments that come from her boss, coworkers and her regular customers. She consistently goes the extra mile. She comes in early, helps new hires distinguish between irate self-important clients and those who enjoy good service. She stays late and helps after everyone else has punched the clock and gone home, but she doesn't have to.

She appreciates hearing a sincere Thank You when it comes, and she loves it when someone says, "You make this place somewhere I want to be" - as long as it's honest. At the end of the quarter she's named Top Regional Employee - something she didn't know existed. But now she does. So do her co-workers. They take note, pitch in a bit more and create a better work environment.

By contrast there are those who work with or for someone who attempts to motivate through words that only berate, or whose positive words are actually shallow, canned and memorized in order to get things to go my way. This person hasn't a clue as to why those around him act out negatively at every opportunity. We might do well to check out Bob Hoffman's Negative Love Syndrome.

But here's the reality - a dose of recognition (positive or negative) actually lasts longer over time. Much more than money, recognition touches the emotional feeling nature and takes longer to dissipate.

Cause, as with the two motivators already mentioned, can be viewed in terms of aspects both bright and dark.

"We can end the hatred that divides these neighborhoods," one leader said, "if we will just hang in there and keep a Dialogue going that seeks common ground."

"But," came the reply, "no one cares, we're broke - in fact, everyone around us is broke; and no one is noticing us anymore."

"I know," continued the leader. "That's why we have to keep going. History teaches us to not give up. Let's get out there and talk with people in ways that open them to possibility, dignity, respect, hope and mutual understanding."


"We can put an end to this coming together of neighborhoods, this insane notion that basically we're really the same," the leader said. "If we hang in long enough and keep disagreements going we can force them out and keep this all to ourselves."

"But," came the reply, "no one cares, we're broke - in fact, everyone around us is broke; and no one is noticing us anymore."

"I know," continued the leader. "That's why we have to keep going. Now get out there and see if you can stir things up, muddy the waters, create some confusion, disinformation and misunderstanding. For crying out loud insult someone - step on their dignity."

Truly we all have to discern how it is that we use what we really believe in. We must all ask, "To what end am I using My Cause?" - and - "To what end am I being used by Someone Else's Cause?"  

Recently the sensei at our aikido dojo called a student out onto the mat to perform under the pressures of multiple-attack. He did this to help the individual prepare for an upcoming exam.   There was a moment when the student lost his presence of mind and mumbled aloud to himself, "What am I doing?" Sensei heard the words (as did we all) and immediately replied, "I don't know, but that's a good question!"

NOW, back to where we started. For the next ten minutes shut the door, ignore your mobile phone, don't engage in some Pavlovian response to the blings of incoming email. Do yourself (and those you value in life) a favor. Sit with Dan Pink. Start here and enjoy!

When you're done consider how you might put into practice what Pink's presentation brings to the surface for you. Then I hope you'll share this marvelous talk with others to serve whatever it motivates within you.

©Lance Giroux, November 2012

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