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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just Do It! And Other Motivations

A recent New York Times article, "The Secret of Effective Motivation" by Amy Wrzesniewski, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management and Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College has some very interesting findings.

Wrzesniewski and Schwartz started by dividing motivations into internal and instrumental.

Internal motivations examples:
- To learn how to perform CPR
- To become a better driver

Instrumental motivations examples:
- Become a medic (a requirement is to learn CPR)
- Get a driver's license (a requirement is to be a driver that meets a standard)

Their goal was to find out which motivation created better outcomes (e.g. drivers). Their research study focused on nine classes of entering cadets to West Point academy (over 11,000 individuals). What they found was that those with internal motives were more successful than those with instrumental motives.

It is a must read for anyone seeking to chart a personal path to more success and especially important for leaders within organizations with significant investment in people (which is just about every organization these days!).

Based on my experience I would distill this article and the underlying research into a few key questions.

1. What motivates you?

2. Why do you engage in a specific activity?

3. What activities you engage in today will build a future for you?

For example, you may desire to become a better leader. You choose to take a course in leadership. This represents an internal motive and therefore would suggest that you would be successful based on the report.

However, you may be seeking to attain a better job within your organization (an instrumental motivation) so you take a leadership course. The research suggests that you may end up less successful because of your motivation even though you did the exact same thing.

Let's take this thought one step further. What is the core difference? One path is more centered in the "now" while the other is focused on the "future."

What can we learn? Perhaps we need to work more in the moment. Experience the things that are happening now. Add a new motivation later and so on. The report pointed out that better officers and success in the future was the result for cadets that identified internal motives.

We all know people that seem to be in constant motion but never really achieve their potential. Why? It may be that they are not being authentic. Authenticity is a crucial element to achieving potential. This is a concept I develop in my book, The Promise of Potential. Be sure and read the New York Times article and if you want to develop more expertise take a look at my book--but only if your motives are internal!

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