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August 28, 2012

What Motivates You?
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

I did a quick Google search and found this question to be the top interview query. So if you’re applying for a job, better have a good answer. One site listed lots of answers, here are some favorites:

I motivate myself through RYP (remember you’re poor). You can’t afford to waste your time. I say these three words to motivate myself. Mohit

My father’s dream for me is my motivational point. Rajendra R.

Beating my personal best… growing: spiritually, professionally, financially, psychological and emotionally… daily, weekly, monthly and annually. Auntie

A little pressure can work wonders for me – working on more than one campaign at a time and multi-task. Lozahloz

Money, all other answers are lying. they don’t like real answers?? Leo

What made me think of the question was a recent Economist article about a brilliant Indian businessman named Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. He’s been called India’s Warren Buffet. The 52 year old made himself a billionaire by judicious trading since he was a teenager.

He understands that the riches and fame are transitory. He names his true motivation below.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the money, but that’s not what motivates me.” So what does make him tick? “The thrill of being proved right.”

As you work and negotiate with others, remember that this simple motivation strongly drives lots of successful people. Remember when dealing with your customers that they may care more about being proved right than about the money.


August 21, 2010

Why is What I Know about Motivation Probably Wrong?
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

If you’ve ever studied economics or business or taken a class in supervision, you’ve been taught the basics of motivation. If we reward a certain behavior, we get more of that behavior. If we punish, we get less. It works for teaching Shamus to jump through a fiery hope, so it must work for people, right?

Turns out, many recent studies show that larger rewards can lead to worse performance…especially for creative and cognitive work. The best companies thrive by implementing this knowledge. I’ve built buildings for some of them and marveled at how they treated their people. Now I understand the theory behind the management.

Regarding money, it’s still true that too little money demotivates. The secret seems to be to pay enough so the issue of money is taken off the table. Employees should be well paid, but producing great results that clearly warrant their salary.

So how do we manage to do that? The video below explains the process beautifully. When you have 10 minutes, watch it and take notes.


The three keys to motivation appear to be Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Let’s expand that a bit.

1. Autonomy: People want to be self-directed. They want to do something worthwhile. It’s our job as managers and supervisors to help them remove the barriers to their best performance.

2. Mastery: People want to get better at things. Whether practicing the guitar on weekends or writing articles for Wikipedia, people love that feeling of improvement.

3. Purpose: We all understand that we need to help our employer make a profit, but that doesn’t highly motivate most of us. When our work goes toward a larger purpose, our motivation grows.

I watched this video with my friend Randy, an amazing carpenter who grew to hate commercial construction work. He loved the message of the video. Randy recalled jerk bosses who tried to tell him exactly how to do things that he knew how to do better. He talked about how his mastery of the trade was so often discouraged and demeaned in the name of production (even though I know he got more done, and done right, than almost any carpenter I’ve worked with).

If you supervise or manage people in construction, think deeply about these three keys to motivation. Try to limit the old carrot and stick approach and move toward a method that works better. It will help you, it will help your employees and it will help the world.

By the way, a hat tip to John Poole and his blog Constructonomics: A construction industry blog that digs below bedrock. He’s a good writer and a thoughtful guy.