Let’s assume a person has a good income and feels he’s in a secure place. What will motivate that person daily to do his utmost to create value in what he does? Giving that person a raise over and over again won’t do that much, at least not more than for a few weeks or possibly months. With the basic needs dealt with, you need to look elsewhere for creating motivation. The question, then, is where?

The other day I read “Agile IT Organization Design” by Sriram Narayan (highly recommended by the way) and one of many interesting things he wrote was the explanation of how to stimulate intrinsic motivation, namely by mastery, purpose and autonomy. This rings very true for me.

Over the years I have often thought that there are few things as motivating as being in a situation where you feel that you are doing a really good job. This is always fulfilling and is a perpetual motivator. Consider the opposite of going to work everyday with a feeling that all you are doing is a load of garbage, things that nobody cares about and that are of no value to anyone. Could anything be less motivating?

I also think that by becoming good at more tasks (becoming broader) than your “first” speciality is actually helping you to become better at your speciality too. Having a T-shaped competence (or several Ts) is to make your speciality more useful. Overall, I think “doing a really good job” is in the same ballpark as “mastery”.

Perhaps it’s even more important to know about the why of the situation and feeling that it is something that you would love to help out with. If you haven’t read it already, Simon Sinek’s ”Start with why!” is a must. Also, it highlights the entire route from your “highest why” down to the why of every little task. For example, maybe your highest why is to help people globally out of poverty through education, so your daily task of giving lectures is perfectly aligned with your highest why. Consequently it’s easy to see that your everyday life is full of purpose.

I often say that it’s misconduct (in situations that aren’t dysfunctional) to work on tasks if you don’t know why you’re doing them. It’s demotivation on steroids. “Starting with why” is same as “purpose”.

Finally, what about autonomy? I was recently invited to a university to speak to prospect and new students. To my surprise I was twice asked the question “How do you avoid burning out?” I was not expecting that question at all and my spontaneous answer was probably a bit sloppy. I said that if you work with something that you are passionate about and you are in control of the situation, then you won’t get sick. I do realize that this isn’t the full answer, but I do believe it might be very bad for the health to feel helpless and unable to affect your situation over a long period of time. It's not just demotivation, it might even become a health problem.

So, doing a really good job, starting with why and being in control of the situation are all crucial in themselves. Having them all, that’s it!

A wise friend said the other day that it’s important to also have fun in whatever you do! Mastery, purpose and autonomy will lead to fun days, definitely, but it doesn’t hurt to add some extra laughs every day too.

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